The Southampton Town Board unanimously approved the $10.5-million purchase of 1.25 acres of land next to the LCpl. Jordan C. Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge Tuesday afternoon, paving the way for the creation of the John Steinbeck Waterfront Park, although Supervisor Jay Schneiderman stressed he would like to see the park built sooner rather than later.
“The only thing I ask is the board move expeditiously in creating this park — that it just doesn’t sit as an empty parcel but that there is public access there and amenities for the public,” said Supervisor Schneiderman, after a public hearing and just before the board voted to move forward with the purchase and an inter-municipal agreement with the Village of Sag Harbor, which will be responsible for developing the park and maintaining it.
The town will be purchasing the property from Sagaponack developer Jay Bialsky, who will separately pursue a condominium project featuring three townhouse units next to the Ferry Road parcel. Mr. Bialsky is the most recent of several property owners the village, community groups in Sag Harbor and eventually, the town, has negotiated with in an effort to make the public waterfront park a reality. According to the town’s CPF Manager Mary Wilson, the town will take ownership of the property only after it has been cleared of its derelict buildings and an environmental assessment has been performed.
“I am here with three of my trustees to thank the town supervisor and all the town council for support for our project,” said Sag Harbor Mayor Sandra Schroeder. “And all the public and private people who are supporting our project too.”
In 2016, the Southampton Town board approved a $14 million purchase of land on Moses Lane in Southampton Village, intended to be redeveloped into an active or passive park — a project that the Village Board there has yet been able to bring to fruition. At Tuesday’s public hearing, Supervisor Schneiderman asked Ms. Schroeder what the timeframe Sag Harbor’s Village Board had in mind for making the John Steinbeck Park a reality.
Ms. Schroeder said it was her hope it would be completed in early 2019, and while plans — designed by landscape architect Edmund Hollander — have yet to be finalized, in theory the park will host bathroom facilities, an amphitheater, a literary walkway, a sculpture of Mr. Steinbeck and his dog, Charley, among other public amenities.
“I would like to have an anchor there to commemorate the whalers,” said Ms. Schroeder.
Ms. Schroeder noted the park would connect a pathway under the LCpl. Haerter Bridge to Windmill Beach and, eventually when Sag Harbor’s Long Wharf is renovated, to a new walkway around the wharf. With similar public walkways on West Water Street and at Marine Park, Ms. Schroeder and trustee Jim Larocca said the John Steinbeck Park would create an almost continuous waterfront walkway for residents and visitors to enjoy.
“It completes the picture of a waterfront that has evolved from a commercial, fishing, industrial waterfront to one devoted to recreation and enjoyment,” said Mr. Larocca.
Mr. Larocca noted that Mr. Hollander is leading a design team for plans for the park and with the CPF purchase the village would be able to pursue in earnest state and federal grants to help with funding.
“The number of ideas we hear are enough to fill Central Park,” said Mr. Larocca. “That is how much enthusiasm there is in the community.” Mr. Larocca added a number of landscaping firms and construction companies have offered donations to the village to aid in the building of the park, comparing what it could become to Mitchell Park in Greenport.
Jayne Young, a board member of Save Sag Harbor — the non-profit that rallied around the concept of transforming the property into parkland after plans emerged to develop luxury condominiums there in 2008 — was joined at Tuesday’s meeting by fellow board members Hilary Loomis and Bob Weinstein. She said the group’s membership of 2,000 have long supported this initiative.
“We have worked hard since 2008 with three or four different developers, three different mayors to represent the interest of the citizens of Sag Harbor to have this wonderful extension and access to our waterfront, which is so precious to us,” she said.
“This has not been an easy thing to accomplish in our community, so you can imagine how happy we are to see it in our sights,” Ms. Young later added.
“I agree today is a day to celebrate,” said North Haven resident Michael Daly. “I think if there was any reason why the CPF was ever formed, it was for moments like this.”
“That property was always available to the public going back to the 1960s, which is what I remember, when it was a fishing station — Remkus’s Fishing Station,” said Southampton Town Board member and North Haven resident Tommy John Schiavoni. “There was a restaurant there, a professional building, but you could always walk down to that park and under the bridge. I am very happy this will be transferred into public ownership and stay that way in perpetuity.”
“I am really happy to be a part of this,” said Supervisor Schneiderman. “I appreciate how the town board has worked with the village and I appreciate your patience in making sure we get it right … I think we are going to see a really happy ending for the Village of Sag Harbor.”