Despite a crowded sidewalk protest outside Village Hall on Monday and a meeting room packed with opponents on Tuesday, the Sag Harbor Village Board voted 4-1 without discussion until after the fact to proceed with plans to pave a 4,800-square-foot site on the east side of the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor turnpike to serve as an impound lot for vehicles seized by Sag Harbor Village Police.
Surrounded on three sides by property designated part of the 800-acre Long Pond Greenbelt Preserve, the site is located on a village-owned 24-acre parcel that the Town of Southampton has declined to consider for purchase as open space because it was a former municipal dump and is contaminated, village officials said.
Tuesday’s meeting was the first at which any board members have articulated a defense of the proposal, with Trustees James Larocca and Kenneth O’Donnell explaining less remote sites would not work because an unbroken “chain of evidence” must be maintained at a police impound lot, which requires oversight and security. Contracting with East Hampton or Southampton Town Police departments to use their lots, they said, would take police officers away from the village to shuffle cars.
Mayor Sandra Schroeder, countering the first opposition speaker’s plea to protect water quality in the Greenbelt, said simply, “The DEC says it will have no adverse impact.”
Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt, the Nature Conservancy and the Group for the East End, among others, have opposed the plan, calling it an environmental threat to the Greenbelt and the rare and threatened plant and animal species found there. Even the Sag Harbor Board of Education has joined the fray. It sent its president to the meeting to ask the board to hold off on paving the site until the possibility is explored that the school district might have property that village could use for storing vehicles.
Unfamiliar with Village Board procedures, the overflow audience seemed not to follow what was happening after the board — followings its published agenda — had gone through public hearings, department reports, crisply approved two routine resolutions by unanimous votes and then moved on to the next: “Authorization to award the bid for Construction of the Village Vehicle Impound Facility to DeLalio Coal & Stone Co., in the amount of $99,797.00.”
The vote was four ayes and one no, with Trustee Aidan Corish, who has long been asking the board to consider alternatives, in opposition. As the board moved on to the next resolution, someone in the audience called out, “What happened?”
“Can you explain what just happened?” someone else called out as the board was proceeding to grant permission for a charity bicycle ride on May 18 to benefit the American Heart Association.
Village Attorney Elizabeth Vail answered, “Four voted in favor with Trustee Corish against.” She explained the time for public comment would be provided after the board considered its 24 resolutions.
With murmurs and grumbles rumbling through the audience, some members of which carried the same protest signs they’d waved on the sidewalk Monday, the board went through 16 more resolutions. As it reached the next, a resolution to transfer up to $100,000 from the unrestricted fund balance to pay for the paving work, the audience seemed better prepared.
Voices chanted, “no, no, no, no,” as the board moved on to the vote, and switched to “shame, shame, shame, shame” as the board members cast the same 4-1 tally to approve the resolution.
When the time came for “public comments,” which since earlier this year is only listed at the end of the board’s meeting agendas, 11 members of the audience spoke, none of them in favor of the impound lot. Among them was Diana Kolhoff, president of the School Board, who offered no specific suggestion for using district property for the lot, although that idea came up Monday night as the School Board discussed the issue and informally agreed to send Ms. Kolhoff to the meeting as its representative.
“My hope is that as we moved forward we can work together to find solutions to problems as they arise,” she said. “Please tap us as a resource.”
Trustee Larocca said he appreciated the School Board’s interest. “The chain of evidence” problem “is one element” in determining a site for the impound lot, he said. “Even if the School Board is willing to provide us with security,” including fencing, camera and attendants, “there would not be support for the other nine months of the year” when the district needs it parking facilities. “That doubles the burden” for the village, he said.
He said the planned lot “is an extremely small piece of property on a vast, complicated piece of property” that has been a dump, contains the town’s waste transfer station, provides leaf storage for the highway department and has been used to park PSE&G utility trucks. He said the impound lot site — the number is actually 4,800, or a piece measuring 60 by 80 feet — “is a de minimus presence in this vast former dump.”
During subsequent exchanges with audience members, board members said the police receive a maximum of about 30 impounded vehicles per year. They are currently kept in the area behind the firehouse on Brick Kiln Road that also has been used by the Highway Department.
“I’ve been to four of these meetings,” said Sharone Einhorn, a board member of Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt, and “every meeting 20 or 30 people stand up” and read letters from environmental groups opposing the plan. “Nobody from an audience has ever stood up in favor of the impound lot: only opposed. And I look at all of you and I say, ‘Why aren’t you listening to all these people?’ It matters to them. Yesterday almost 70 people demonstrated in front of Village Hall. I’ve never seen that in all the years I’ve lived here. This matters and you’re making a mistake. I understand you need an impound lot. This is not the place for it and you need to listen to the voice of the people who are here and represent their wishes.”