Consensus And Clashes As Sag Harbor Village Board Meets

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Sag Harbor Village Mayor James Larocca. MICHAEL HELLER

The newly reconstituted Sag Harbor Village Board on Tuesday agreed it would extend a moratorium on most waterfront construction for six months and opened a hearing on a proposed waterfront overlay zoning district, even though that initiative will likely see major revisions in the coming months under the direction of new Mayor James Larocca.

But the largely collegial atmosphere that marked most of the evening disappeared late in the meeting when there was a heated discussion between Mr. Larocca, Trustee Aidan Corish, and members of the audience over the mayor’s refusal to assign Trustee Bob Plumb, with whom he has been at odds since before the election, to any committee positions.

The board took little time to agree to extend until March 1, 2022, a moratorium on most waterfront construction projects, while it continues to work on a waterfront zoning upgrade aimed at reining in development. That effort was begun last year under former Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy, but Mr. Larocca was an early skeptic, questioning its goals and objectives and saying it did not go far enough to protect the village

While acknowledging that “there is a great deal of good work that has been accomplished” in the initial zoning study, Mr. Larocca said it was necessary to extend the moratorium beyond its scheduled September ending date, adding that he hoped the full six months would not be needed to complete code revisions.

When Hilary Loomis of Save Sag Harbor asked Mr. Larocca to describe how he planned to change the zoning from the current proposal for a form-based code, he said he wanted to expand its boundaries to include all the commercially zoned properties along the waterfront, including those parcels on Redwood Road. He added that he would like to see the zoning code revised to give the Village Board final approval over major projects and the authority to send them back to their respective boards for reworking if it believed mistakes had been made, which many have said was the case when the village approved three condominiums that tower over John Steinbeck Waterfront Park. Additionally, he said use tables in the current zoning code are inconsistent and confusing and need to be updated.

The new code “will be guided by what the public says about the work done so far and what you want to see,” the mayor said. After receiving a handful of comments, the board agreed to adjourn the hearing until its August 10 meeting.

The board also accepted with regret the decision of village clerk-administrator Beth Kamper to retire in September and the resignation of Chelesa Omoma, who had served as the mayor’s secretary, but has decided to leave for a two-year language study program in Korea. The board also accepted the resignations of George Pfriender, a part-time building inspector, and of Susan Mead as a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The board also approved Mr. Larocca’s appointments of alternate members to its various boards including Joseph Fisher to the ZBA, Neil Slevin to the Planning Board, and Robert Adams to the Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review. But Hilary Thayer Hamann was named to replace Kate Plumb, Mr. Plumb’s sister, as alternate to the Harbor Committee.

The animus between Mr. Larocca and Mr. Plumb, which has been building since before the election, surfaced again as first Nada Barry and later Will Sharp, during public comment periods, addressed the mayor’s failure to reappoint Mr. Plumb, a retired contractor, to his previous role as liaison to the building department or to give him any other committee assignments. Both urged the men to smooth over their differences and work together.

The topic was picked up by Trustee Corish as the meeting wound down. “The people of the village spoke loud and clear a few weeks ago,” he said, referring to the election in which he and Mr. Plumb easily outpaced all other vote-getters. “And in return they deserve a board that is firing on all cylinders. Right now, we are firing on 80 percent.”

“Whatever the differences are here, we have an exceptional talent in Mr. Plumb, and the village deserves his talents being employed on their behalf,” he said to Mr. Larocca. “I’m calling on you to fix this situation, or if you don’t, then explain to us why this is in the best interest of the village.”

Although Mr. Corish called for a quick resolution of their differences, citing the number of important issues demanding the board’s attention, Mr. Larocca defended himself, noting that there have been a number of complaints made about the building department, both by applicants and regulatory board members.

“This is my approach to solving that,” he said, arguing that other appointments he had made, including that of Jeanne Kane as chair of the BHPAC and Val Florio as chair of the ZBA were already yielding positive results. He also described his transition as “a work in motion, and this is how far we have gotten.”

Mr. Plumb remained largely silent during the exchange, saying only that the sole contact he has had with Mr. Larocca since the election was an email he received on Monday thanking him for his service as liaison to the building department and informing him that Mr. Larocca would now take over that duty.

But his sister, Kate Plumb, called for Mr. Larocca to heed his own advice for unity, which he called for at the board’s July 6 organizational meeting. “There are some steps we have to take so that those words, those noble ideas, can be effective,” she said.

The mayor responded that Ms. Plumb and other members of the public were speaking “without a full understanding of recent events,” and he said he did not want to revisit those events. He added that he had worked “every minute of every day since the election” to ensure a smooth transition and said reconciliation was two-way street.

When it appeared the debate would continue, Trustee Tom Garella stepped in, calling for the meeting to be adjourned and both sides to calm down. “Let’s give it some time,” he said. “Time heals all wounds. Let’s move forward.”

As the audience, which had thinned out considerably during the course of the meeting filed, out, Mr. Larocca, Mr. Gardella, and new Trustee Ed Haye remained at the dais in discussion for at least 15 minutes afterward, while other attendees gathered on the sidewalk in front of the Municipal Building to continue their discussions.

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