Sag Harbor Village Trustee Jim Larocca made the struggle over rezoning the village’s waterfront a cornerstone of his campaign to unseat Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy this week, saying that if he wins next month’s mayoral election, he would seek to shelve the months-long effort to adopt new development limitations along the village’s waterfront and nearby office district, in favor of embarking on a village-wide planning process.
In a statement issued last Friday, Mr. Larocca said that he would reboot the village planning process on “day one” and focus anew on a more comprehensive review of the village’s development, while possibly seeking to extend the moratorium on development along the waterfront that will expire in August.
“Sadly, this narrowly focused and poorly managed process has, to date, not produced any of the tools we need to challenge the tsunami of big out-of-town money that is buying up a major portion of the downtown and the waterfront,” he said in the statement. “In fact, in the opinion of many who have been watching this process — including this trustee — this process would make things measurably worse.”
Mr. Larocca said on Monday that while the waterfront overlay district that the village has been working on since last summer has become convoluted and failed at the mission of preventing over-development of the waterfront, there are some components of it that would be useful and could be adopted into village code while the broader planning effort is in the works.
“I do see a number of good components and, if I’m elected, I would ask my colleagues to cherry pick some of the positives from the work that has been done over the last nine months and put those in place while we start the comprehensive plan process,” he said.
He may be in favor of seeking an extension of the development moratorium along the waterfront while the village works on the new planning approach, he said, depending on how the planning process unfolds.
Ms. Mulcahy, who said on Monday that she had not seen Mr. Larocca’s statement about scrapping the waterfront overlay district proposal, warned that such a sweeping reboot would mean a years-long effort that would not address the looming threat of an explosion of redevelopment.
“We don’t have the time — we have to do something before our entire waterfront becomes luxury condos,” she said. “It would be lovely to have been able to do a full comprehensive plan and code for the whole village but that’s a multi-year, multi-hundreds of thousands of dollars undertaking. We saw with West Water Street, which the previous administration, including Jim Larocca approved, what can happen and how much of our waterfront is for sale.”
When the village last extended the waterfront development moratorium for an additional six months, through the end of August, Ms. Mulcahy said they were told by the Suffolk County Planning Commission, which must approve such proposals, that additional extensions would not be looked upon favorably.
Both Ms. Mulcahy and Mr. Larocca said they see the possibility of overdevelopment along the waterfront under the current village code as an immediate threat to the character and waterfront atmosphere of the downtown area. Mr. Larocca likened the interest of wealthy real estate speculators in the handful of large waterfront properties to the Revolutionary War battle known as Meig’s Raid, in which American forces crossed Long Island Sound from Connecticut to attack a detachment of British soldiers in Sag Harbor, taking dozens of prisoners.
“This is starting to feel like that, there are so many big players landing in our village trying to take our waterfront hostage,” Mr. Larocca said.
The waterfront overlay zoning revisions would cover the area from Cove West Marina on the west to the Sag Harbor Yacht Yard to the east and both sides of Bay Street and Long Island Avenue. The boundary extends south to encompass a portion of properties in the office district bounded by Meadow, Rose and Bridge streets.
The proposed code would ban entirely the construction of private residential structures along the waterfront and would reduce the maximum height of new buildings from 35 feet to 25 feet —though it would allow the village to grant specific exceptions allowing an additional story on a building as long as the top floor was inset another 10 feet and the development proposal included public waterfront access and walkways from the nearest public street.
But in folding the office district into the waterfront overlay proposal, the committee of village officials, residents and consultants that crafted the legislation also introduced a number of changes to that special district that would have allowed new retail uses, a step that has drawn criticisms from the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce, the Sag Harbor Partnership and the Sag Harbor Historical Society as expanding development in the village.
Ms. Mulcahy said on Monday that she would be open to removing or tinkering with the proposed changes in the office district if it will secure support for the waterfront legislation before the expiration of the moratorium.
“We were trying to encourage cobblers and barbershops and the destination places to go back there — you don’t need to be taking up a parking spot on Main Street if you are going in to get your hair cut,” she said. “But that’s been a sticking point so we may take that out.”
Mr. Larocca has been critical of the handling of the whole process, right back to the formation of the committee to the choice of consultants to craft the legislation. He said this week the process has been controlled too closely by Ms. Mulcahy and Trustee Robert Plumb and that the “out of town” consultants have missed the “essence of this place.” He thinks things need to be taken back to square one.
“I think we need to pause the entire process — I don’t know anybody that is happy with it, or even understands it or what it means to them,” he said. “It has not been a successful process.”