Bay Street Summer Series Faces Uphill Climb With Sag Harbor Village Board

Tracy Mitchell, Bay Street's executive director, appeared before the Sag Harbor Village Board asking permission to host shows in Steinbeck Park, and submitted 144 letters of support.

Despite a change of venue to John Steinbeck Waterfront Park, a reduction in the number of scheduled shows, and an offer to pay for extra security, Bay Street Theater’s proposal to hold its Summer Stage series outdoors continues to draw pushback from Sag Harbor Village officials, who have yet to rule on the request.

Tracy Mitchell, Bay Street’s executive director, who earlier in the month sought permission to erect a tent in the parking lot in front of 7-Eleven for the series, which runs from June through August, again appeared before the board on March 24. This time, it was to seek approval to move the shows to the park, saying that she also had submitted 144 letters of support from theater-goers and business owners.

She explained that because Bay Street works with the Actors Equity Association, the only way it will be able to reopen this summer is if it holds performances outdoors, because the union will not approve indoor performances.

Allowing Bay Street to hold two shows a week in June and six shows weekly in July and August also would provide a much needed boost for actors who need the work, as well as the local economy, she said.

“As a professional who has been putting on live events for 35 years, including things way bigger than an outdoor tent for 200 people, I find it hard to believe that we as a community can’t figure out a way to make this happen,” Ms. Mitchell said.

But village officials, including Police Chief Austin J. McGuire, begged to differ.

“It would seem that simply because it violates numerous sections of the village code and is statutorily prohibited, as confirmed by our village attorney, would be enough of a reason to not allow it, but apparently it is not,” Chief McGuire said.

Reading from a prepared statement, he said each of the shows would constitute its own special event. Saying they “would not have an adverse effect on the village would be foolish,” he said.

He said the shows would attract people without tickets who would simply come for free theater in the park. “While that may seem like a good thing in theory,” he said, “in the emergency service brain this provides the potential for more distress and disaster and puts more strain on our 11-person police department and volunteer fire/EMS.”

Chief McGuire said Sag Harbor is “arguably the busiest village on Long Island,” and added that with the prospect of the pandemic easing, “we are going to see a surge unlike anything we’ve seen” this summer.

In response, Ms. Mitchell said, “I hope that Bay Street won’t pay the price for whatever else is going on this summer.”

She also said Bay Street would pay to have 24-hour security guards on hand and help underwrite the cost of traffic control and extra policing.

The village code prohibits more than three special events per year on non-residentially zoned property, but it allows exceptions, provided that each special event is limited to one day or one night, is not held between June 15 and September 15, and there are at least 14 days between events.

Despite those restrictions, the code allows the Village Board to issue a waiver if it determines that “a special event will have a minimal impact on the village.”

Ms. Mitchell suggested that the board could find a way to approve the summer series, saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

But Village Attorney Denise Schoen said she had concluded that the legal barrier was simply too steep to clear, and the board did not have the authority to approve the permit.

“I wish there was a way to ignore the code,” she said. The board, she added “can ignore my advice, but it doesn’t put them in a good position.”

The concerns of Chief McGuire and Ms. Schoen were enough to sway Trustee Thomas Gardella, who said he would not support the proposal.

“I did want to see it in the park. I did want to see Bay Street go ahead and have something this summer,” he said. “I just think it’s overwhelming.”

Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy added her concerns, saying the request was a heavy lift, requiring, as it does, that the tent be in place all summer. “Can you make it less shows?” she asked. “Something to lessen some of the impact.”

Trustee Aidan Corish asked that Ms. Schoen provide the board with a legal memo outlining her objections, and the board tabled the discussion without taking a vote or setting a time for it to be taken up again.

Stephen Hamilton, the director of external affairs for Friends of Bay Street, said he hoped the village would see a way to approve the series. He noted that last summer the village “performed summersaults” to help both the Sag Harbor Cinema and village restaurants remain open in the face of the pandemic.

“I think it’s time to help Bay Street get through one of the most difficult times we are facing in our 30-year history,” he said.