Editorial: Beyond the Velvet Ropes
It is not the luxury yachts or tightly guarded restaurants that have made Sag Harbor the destination it has become over the last decade. This village has retained a sense of place found on the sailboats at the Breakwater Yacht Club, the barstools at the Corner Bar, the picnic tables at Marine Park and on Windmill Beach, the crafts section at the Variety Store, the auditorium of the Bay Street Theater, and, until recently, in the musty seats of the Sag Harbor Cinema.
This sense of place was created and has been protected by businesses that own their own buildings, by the families that patronize those establishments year-round, and by the volunteers who run its government and emergency services. The greater Sag Harbor community is one that rallies around families, causes or businesses in need, and seeks to find unity in those moments rather than divisions.
The summer season brings thousands of second homeowners and tourists to the village who are intrinsic to the economic health of the region. Some celebrate Sag Harbor for its history, and embrace its occasionally rough edges, enjoy Tuesday nights with the community band, and buy their beach toys at the Variety Store, the Wharf Shop or Kites of the Harbor. Others appreciate it only for what arrives in season — gilded facades with little depth, and few roots in the true culture of the South Fork.
Sag Harbor has seen great changes. Those changes have accelerated in recent years with increased development pressure on residential neighborhoods and the introduction of a handful of new businesses, some of which have been reluctant to even feign interest in contributing to the year-round community. Coupled with the looming loss of family-owned establishments, it is difficult not to experience a sense of foreboding about what the future holds, and who will be left to experience it.
For our zoning board of appeals and planning boards, protecting residential neighborhoods from growth outside the character and scale of what exists will be critical and holding the line on projects that require multiple variances without demonstrating true hardship will be essential. Supporting local businesses, whenever possible, will also be crucial to maintaining a vibrant Main Street year-round that does not simply cater to the upper echelon during the summer months.
Those of us who remain understand that visiting Sag Harbor was never about hiding behind velvet ropes, even for the celebrities who have flocked here for decades. It will be incumbent on those who make up the fabric of Sag Harbor to support one another, to serve as watchdogs, and ensure the village remains a place for everyone to enjoy for many years to come.