Sag Harbor Mayor Jim Larocca confirmed he had reached out to National Grid, asking that it suspend the process of awarding a lease to what is commonly known as the gas ball parking lot on Bridge Street and Long Island Avenue to Friends of Bay Street Theater with the goal of securing it once again for the village.
The not-for-profit theater group, which was formed last year to build a new facility for Bay Street Theater, beat out the village this spring for the right to a long-term lease on the property. The village had been leasing the parking lot for a nominal fee since 2016 and had been seeking to extend that lease, which ends December 31, until the utility put the property up for sale. National Grid later reversed itself and again offered the property for lease.
Village officials speculated at the time that the utility did so because it did not want the potential liability that would be attached to the sale of a remediated Superfund site. The property was contaminated by volatile organic compounds left there when it was a natural gas manufacturing plant in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, requiring extensive excavation during a multi-year cleanup.
On Tuesday, Mr. Larocca acknowledged that he had requested that National Grid “suspend the award process based on changed circumstances.”
Those changed circumstances include the fact that the properties surrounding the parking lot have changed hands in the past year, with most, if not all, being acquired by groups linked to Adam Potter, the chairman of Friends of Bay Street, raising the possibility they could come before the village as part of a major redevelopment proposal.
Mr. Potter could not be reached for immediate comment, but in the spring, when it was revealed that National Grid would award the lease to Friends of Bay Street, he said the organization would work on an arrangement that would benefit both the theater and the village by allowing the theater to have dedicated parking spaces, which would be available for village parking when it was not having performances.
But under the current code, parking for a development is required to be on site, making it questionable if the theater could use the lot for its stated purpose without a variance or code change.
“As a regulated utility, National Grid has an obligation to operate in the public interest,” Mr. Larocca said, with the Public Service Commission being required to review matters like the disposition of property. “That process, to my knowledge, has not yet begun.”
“The village has made highly productive use of the lot in the last five years,” he added. “That parking is especially important to Main Street residents and those who work in the village.”
During a long and varied career in state and federal government, as well as the private sector, Mr. Larocca served as chairman of the Long Island Power Authority, on the board of KeySpan, and as a member of the Public Service Commission.
Wendy Ladd, a spokeswoman for National Grid, said the utility had received Mr. Larocca’s letter but would not comment on the request.
“I have been advocating to get that parking lot secured for the longest time,” said Trustee Thomas Gardella, who said the mayor’s letter was just an effort to reset the clock and let National Grid know “this is vital to our parking situation in the village.”
Trustee Aiden Corish said it was “hard to see the downside” to the mayor’s request. “It’s always better if you control something than having to depend on the kindness of strangers,” he said, “but I’m not sure how effective it will be because I’m not party to what’s been signed and what is irrevocable at this point.”
The parking lot played a key role in this spring’s contentious village election after it was revealed that former Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy had written a letter in 2020 supporting Bay Street Theater’s effort to acquire the property for a new theater without informing other board members. Ms. Mulcahy said she did so because the board had determined it could not afford to buy the property and she thought it was appropriate to support Bay Street’s effort to remain in the village. When the property was again offered for lease, the mayor sent a second letter, rescinding her support for Bay Street’s bid.
Mr. Larocca chastised the mayor for her actions, saying she had undercut his efforts to secure the property for the village, but in an early discussion of Bay Street’s plans, he asked that the theater consider building on the gas ball property and selling the Water Street Shops property it has chosen for a future home to Southampton Town through the Community Preservation Fund so that John Steinbeck Waterfront Park could be expanded.