Editorial: Hard Fought and Well Deserved

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The Town of Southampton and Sagaponack developer Jay Bialsky struck a deal last week that has the potential to completely transform part of Sag Harbor’s precious waterfront and preserve it for public use. The announcement of a $10.5 million Community Preservation Fund purchase of a 1.25-acre site next to the Lance Corporal Jordan C. Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge comes at a time when many year-round residents in the greater Sag Harbor community are watching some of what has made the village special slip away into a more luxurious, and often exclusive, landscape.

In other words, it was a win that many residents of Sag Harbor really needed, and one that never would have happened without the determination of Sag Harbor Mayor Sandra Schroeder and village trustee James Larocca. Ms. Schroeder and Mr. Larocca, along with the rest of the village board, were unflinching through years of negotiations that the concept of a public, waterfront park needed to be kept on the table for the good of the entire village. They deserve our thanks, and the thanks of generations to come, for this effort.

For the uninitiated, the property in question has been the site of several proposed luxury condominium projects for well over a decade now, with most of the versions including massive, vista-killing proposals that forced droves of residents to public meetings to speak out in opposition. While the village had long eyed the property for potential redevelopment as a public park, it was only with the introduction of Greystone Development in 2015, and after the purchase of 2 West Water Street — the unattractive, white eyesore previously owned by Bruce Davis of 1-800-LAWYER fame— that the concept was entertained by a willing seller.

Mr. Bialsky recently purchased the property from Greystone and continued what was over two years of negotiation between the town, developers and the village, with the goal of creating a public waterfront park named for the author John Steinbeck, who lived in Sag Harbor and treated it as his cherished home. Mr. Bialsky could have easily walked away from the table and deserves credit for recognizing the value in what this deal would accomplish, not only for the public, but for his own adjacent development — a project that has yet to be reviewed by regulatory boards in Sag Harbor but will include three townhouses in lieu of over a dozen condominiums as previously proposed.

To his credit, Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman did keep the potential purchase on the table, despite concerns under the Greystone review that its plans — already before the village planning board while CPF negotiations were ongoing — would devalue the adjacent parkland and any appraisals of that property for public purchase. When the ink dries, this may prove a better outcome as a result.

Finally, and again thanks to the tenacity of members of the village board, those who have purchased property in Sag Harbor Village are finally seeing the fruits of the CPF. Since its inception in 1999, the Community Preservation Fund has been a wildly successful fundraising tool, collecting well over $1 billion to preserve land in the five East End towns. As of April 2017, the robust real estate market in Sag Harbor Village contributed over $18 million to Southampton Town’s preservation coffers, reflecting about $900 million in sales. While East Hampton Town did not have concrete figures, CPF manager Scott Wilson estimated the small portion of Sag Harbor Village that lies within East Hampton Town borders had paid in about $4 million since 2010 — this in the midst of a massive building boom on that side of the village.

As of last year, during the life of the CPF, Southampton Town in total contributed $1.7 million for four separate purchases in the village, and East Hampton Town offered $2.3 million for one large purchase. With this latest contract, it appears Sag Harbor is finally getting its due.

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