Southampton Town has struck a deal with Sagaponack developer Jay Bialsky to buy a portion of the West Water Street, Sag Harbor, property long slated for condominiums and instead preserve it for development as the John Steinbeck Waterfront Park.
The town will pay $10.5 million from its Community Preservation Fund for the 1.25-acre site, while Mr. Bialsky will retain the rights to develop the remaining portion of the nearly 2-acre site with three townhouses.
“This is a story with a happy ending,” said Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, who received the signed contract from Mr. Bialsky’s representatives Wednesday afternoon. Noting that negotiations had lasted well over two years, with disagreements over appraisals, as well as one ownership change, Mr. Schneiderman mused, “The wait was kind of worth it. There will be a better view from the park and less density in terms of development.”
The supervisor praised Mr. Bialsky, who acquired the property earlier this year from Greystone Development, for continuing to bargain in good faith. “He was willing to honor the deal the town had already made” with only an adjustment for how much the property had appreciated in the past year, he said. “He very much wanted the park to happen.”
“We are absolutely thrilled beyond words,” said Mayor Sandra Schroeder in a release. “This acquisition will transform the last remaining open space on the harbor into a world-class park that will be a serene, peaceful setting for our residents and visitors to enjoy one of the most beautiful harbors in the world.”
“My wife and I are very excited that the Ferry Road property will be designated as a public waterfront park for all to enjoy, and we look forward to being part of this vibrant community,” added Mr. Bialsky.
Village Trustee James Larocca, who spearheaded village efforts to acquire the property, welcomed the news. “I would describe it as a major victory for conservation and a major transformation of the waterfront,” he said. “We’ll be adding the first new increments of parkland in the village in over a century.”
The village envisions a park, designed by the landscape architect, Edmund Hollander, with a waterfront trail connecting to Windmill Park and Long Wharf, an amphitheater, fishing piers and other amenities.
“This creates an entirely different waterfront than that which serviced whaling and commerce for two centuries,” he added. “It’s an enormous change that has all kinds of side benefits. It will allow us to help protect the water quality of the harbor and enhance our appeal to visitors and residents alike.”
Redevelopment of the parcel, which stretches from the edge of the Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge and includes a vacant parcel once used for parking, the old Remkus fishing station and a portion of the waterfront, is going to take some time.
The village is also planning to embark on a major renovation of Long Wharf that will shore it up and make it more pedestrian-friendly, but it is still waiting to hear from the state about major grant applications that will help it underwrite the expected $3.8 million cost of the project.
But Mr. Larocca said now that the village owns the waterfront property it will be able to apply for state and federal grants that will help it develop the park. He would not give an estimate for when he expected work on the project would actually begin.
The village has had its eye on the parcel since 2015 when it placed it on its wish list of properties to be preserved with the town’s Community Preservation Fund. Its owner at that time, Greystone Development, insisted it wanted to move forward with a condo plan that would have resulted in a smaller portion of the property being donated to the village as parkland.
Greystone eventually agreed to consider selling 1.25 acres of the 1.94-acre site to the town in 2016, but negotiations dragged on over disagreements of the appraisals of the property and the extent of its development potential.
A monkey wrench was thrown into the works last month when it was announced that Greystone had sold the property to Mr. Bialsky for an undisclosed sum. That cast in doubt whether an offer Mr. Schneiderman said the town had made to Greystone Development would stand. The company verbally agreed to the deal, Mr. Schneiderman added, but had never returned a signed contract.
Greystone had originally wanted to build 13 condominiums at the site. In its environmental review of the project, the village had stated the portion that would be sold to the village was being done so to mitigate the impact of that development. That finding would have resulted in a major devaluation of the property, Mr. Schneiderman said.
As a result, Mr. Bialsky had to reconfigure the plan and has chosen to go forward with a much smaller development on the site of the three-story building that was one owned by attorney Bruce Davis, the owner of 1-800-LAWYER. “That’s a big difference,” Mr. Schneiderman said.
While negotiations dragged on, complaints were heard in the village that the town, which has spent precious few CPF dollars in the village, was dragging its heels. Mr. Schneiderman insisted that was not the case, and said town officials recognized the purchase was important to both Mayor Sandra Schroeder and the members of the village board.
Efforts to develop the property have stretched back more than a decade to when Michael Maidan and Emil Talel, under the name East End Ventures, proposed condominiums in 2005. Their initial plans were whittled back over the years, and in 2015, they sold an interest in the site to Greystone. That firm later added the1-800-LAWYER buildingto its holdingsin April 2016 for $4.94 million.
Greystone then submitted plans to transform part of the property into a 13-unit condominium development designed by architect Robert A.M. Stern with an underground parking garage, rooftop pool and 13 boat slips.