Generally at town board meetings, audience members are asked not to clap or boo for any project that is up for discussion — but on Tuesday night, the Southampton Town board room erupted in applause after three resolutions pertaining to the Sag Harbor Gateway Study were unanimously adopted.
The Sag Harbor Gateway Study represents a change to the entryway of Sag Harbor on the Sag Harbor/Bridgehampton Turnpike. The modification to the town’s master plan changes zoning in the area from Highway Business (HB) to Hamlet Office (HO).
The Sag Harbor Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC), spearheaded the effort to re-zone the area, but there had been opposition to the change from business owners along the turnpike, including Reid Brothers Inc., and Bay Burger restaurant.
The former zoning — highway business — allowed for commercial enterprises such as auto dealerships and taxicab services. Businesses allowed under the new zoning — hamlet office — are smaller, less obtrusive uses such as physicians offices and professional organizations.
The gateway project, which was sponsored by councilperson Chris Nuzzi under former Southampton supervisor Patrick “Skip” Heaney, has been in the works for nearly two years.
“This has been a long time coming,” Nuzzi said on Wednesday, “It’s really an important project for the Sag Harbor area, because it not only represents the gateway into the Village of Sag Harbor, but it is also an important component of the Sag Harbor/Bridgehampton Turnpike from a land use perspective.”
Further, Nuzzi said this decision “shows a good balance of need for the area” by allowing for both professional office space and affordable housing “…of which the East End is in scarce supply.”
“The life is up for HB,” he added. “We should consider making changes to HB as it currently exists, and the zoning classification as it is now.”
In December, the Sag Harbor Gateway study area was expanded to include four more residential properties in the area. Those who favored the zone change expressed concern for Ligonee Brook, a stream that runs parallel to the study area, and environmental impacts major development projects could have on habitats in the area. They were also concerned about traffic flow and preserving the look of this area.
“I’m very pleased to see this has come to a conclusion that we all want,” said CAC member Priscilla Ciccariello. “We think it is going to serve to protect the character for the entryway to Sag Harbor and I think its something that is necessary because of the intensity of development in the past, and possibly would come in the future.”
Further, Ciccariello said the study was “endorsed by the fact that the neighbors have wanted to be included in it.”
“The church is going to be there and it’s going to be a nice design,” added Ciccariello referring to the Sag Harbor United Methodist Church’s plans for a new house of worship in the gateway area. “This will enhance the character.”
“I think it’s the right move — it took a long time,” said Jeremy Samuelson of Group for the East End. “The community really came together and decided that by coordinating with Sag Harbor Village to try and find ways to augment what they are doing with their village business district re-zoning and the zoning code re-write, it all just looked right and blended together.”
Samuelson added that this has not been an easy feat.
“It took a tremendous amount of hard work, but it’s a perfect example of community members and CACs, volunteers, non-profits, town employees and everyone getting together — and at the end of the day coming up with something that works.”
Southampton Town councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst, who resides in Sag Harbor, said she was glad the zone change was adopted.
“It is important from a scenic and a business development perspective … we were all just pleased to give it a 5-0 round.”
The first of the three resolutions adopted a negative declaration for the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) in connection with the updated Sag Harbor Gateway Plan, which included the four residential parcels. The second dealt with an amendment to the Southampton Town Comprehensive plan.
The final resolution changed the zoning from Highway Business (HB) and residential 20,000 square feet (R-20), to Hamlet Office (HO). All three were sponsored by Nuzzi and seconded by Throne-Holst.