Comprehensive Municipal Planning Has Worked Elsewhere

Panelist Barbara Roberts at The Express Sessions: The Uncertain Future of Main Street Sag Harbor event that was held at the Bay Street Theater on Thursday, 3/7/19. Michael Heller photo

East Hampton Town’s doing it. Southold Town’s doing it. The now-thriving Village of Patchogue has done it, with visible, tangible results. The upstate village of Perry did it, and it allegedly took just nine months.

“It” is an extensive municipal visioning study, known as a comprehensive plan, often launched when towns, cities or villages decide to take a more proactive role in crafting their own futures.

During Thursday’s “Express Sessions” discussion on the future of Main Street, Sag Harbor Partnership board member Barbara Roberts — who served on the Suffolk County Planning Commission representing Southampton Town for 10 years — called for Sag Harbor to embark on its own comprehensive plan.

“The number one thing I know is that through planning, you can absolutely control your future,” Ms. Roberts said. “If you want to lose weight or do something, thinking about it is your first step. Your second step is putting it down in writing, and if you start talking about it to other people, you will get the job done.”

According to Ms. Roberts, comprehensive plans involve bringing together stakeholders such as government leaders, business owners and property owners, taxpayers and others to “come together to figure out what is really going on.” They do community surveys, hold public meetings, collect input and data from different sectors of the community, and analyze the results to draw long-term conclusions and action plans that will benefit the municipality.

“The only way that we really will know the future of Sag Harbor is to invent it ourselves today,” Ms. Roberts said.

In the case of Perry, located in northwestern New York as you head toward Buffalo, the village bears similarities to Sag Harbor. With a nationally-designated historic district and a population of about 3,600, it was once a bastion of the manufacturing industry that had to reinvent itself. It completed a comprehensive plan in 2015 in response to “an aging population, a changing economy and a housing stock that, while rich in character, is costly to maintain.”

“Today, Perry has a well-deserved and hard-earned reputation for undertaking major planning initiatives that require creative thinking, energetic implementation and follow through,” the plan notes. “…This plan marks a turning point in Perry’s history. It acknowledges that change will not be easy or rapid.”

Sag Harbor Village trustee James Larocca, who was in the audience on Thursday, said he was aware of previous iterations of plans in the past in Sag Harbor, but there is nothing currently on the horizon.

“The various elements that would go into any thoughtful planning process exist,” he said. “The question is about integrating and creating an overall master plan.”

He said he would favor doing some sort of comprehensive plan, but said, “We don’t have enough wisdom alone as the village government to do this alone.”

“Governor Rockefeller, who was governor for 15 years, used to say that he hated plans because plans wind up on a shelf, but what he liked was planning,” Mr. Larocca said. “He liked the process of people coming together on a continual basis dealing with big issues. … What we really need is a master planning process to keep it in the verb form.”