By Douglas Feiden
A cherished but under-used private green space in the heart of Sag Harbor could become a publicly owned park or open space for the enjoyment of village residents and visitors in perpetuity.
Christ Episcopal Church owns the vacant 0.4-acre property at the corner of Hampton Street and High Street, and church officials confirm they have recently begun to explore a possible sale.
Village officials say they’re hoping to acquire the site, and on May 10, the village board voted to ask East Hampton Town to include it on its Community Preservation Fund list.
“This was offered to us completely out of the blue, and it would be a great benefit to the village by providing more open space,” said Sag Harbor Mayor Sandra Schroeder.
The parcel, known as the “Upper Meadow” or “Upper Lawn,” is “deemed to be a luxury for the church that it may not be able to continue to afford,” according to a statement from the parish’s vestry.
Once the site of a home owned by the philanthropic Aldrich family, which gave it to the church in the 1930s, the lot is only used for a few special occasions each year — such as the Blessing of the Animals in October, for instance — and could provide a significant financial boost to the finances of the 150-member congregation.
A potential sale of the former house lot, which occupies roughly 16,425 square feet of lawn and is cordoned off by a stone wall and two wrought-iron gates, could help to “build the church’s endowment income to support the church’s operating budget,” the vestry’s statement said.
“The church’s first preference is to work through an arrangement with the Village of Sag Harbor, if at all possible,” said Tom Thorpe, senior warden of the church, which is a position similar to a board president.
“It is putting the cart way in front of the horse to consider other possibilities until our discussions with the village are concluded,” Mr. Thorpe added in an interview.
Vestry member Christopher Kelley, who serves as the church’s treasurer and attorney, also emphasized that Christ Episcopal strongly prefers a sale of the land to the municipality so that it can be maintained for “preservation purposes.”
In an interview, Mr. Kelley said the alternative would be to “seek variances and subdivisions and sell it on the open market” as a buildable lot to raise money for the church. A public sale would take that approach off the table, which is the vestry’s goal, though the church is considering both options, he said.
The issue first surfaced on April 14 when Mr. Kelley wrote a letter on behalf of the church to the village attorney, three days after Fred W. Thiele Jr. had resigned from the post, briefly outlining Christ Episcopal’s intentions for the property:
“The church is contemplating an application for variances and/or subdivision for the former house lot…at the southerly portion of the church’s property,” he wrote. “In the interest of preserving this property and keeping it as a resource for the village, the church would be willing to sell that lot to the village if acceptable terms could be agreed to. Please advise if there is interest on the part of the village trustees.”
There was indeed huge interest in preserving the property. The trustees gave a green light to adding it to East Hampton’s CPF list just a month later.
Established in 1999, the CPF provides East End towns with revenues to protect community character and open land. It is funded from a 2-percent real estate transfer tax paid by homebuyers on a one-time basis with funds going directly to the town where the residential properties are sited.
While Sag Harbor property buyers have contributed heavily to CPF, reflecting the village’s robust real estate market in recent years, only a tiny amount of that windfall has been returned to the village to fund land purchases here.
CPF officials didn’t immediately return calls. The vestry said if a preliminary sale agreement can be reached, it would get input from the congregation prior to a final decision by the vestry and approval from the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island.
“It’s great to have more open space,” Mayor Schroeder said. “I don’t begrudge people building houses, but it’s great that we’re not going to be stuck with another large building that comes right up to the sidewalk.”