Park Dream Draws Closer Following Ferry Road Demolition

The long-awaited demolition of the old Ferry Road buildings on the site of what will become the new Steinbeck Park took place on Monday morning, 8/13/18. Michael Heller photo

A less-than-beautiful blip on Sag Harbor’s otherwise picturesque waterfront entered a new phase of development Monday as demolition crews took down dilapidated buildings and cleared debris along 1, 3 and 5 Ferry Road at the foot of the bridge to begin making way for the much-anticipated John Steinbeck Waterfront Park.

“We’re exhilarated. We’re over the top,” Sag Harbor Village Trustee James Larocca said Monday just before the demolition was to begin. “We have said before, we were sorry it took so long, but that’s not the measure. The measure is the result, and the result is we’re on track, and today is a banner day. We are going to get a transformed Sag Harbor waterfront.”

The demolition was a condition of Southampton Town’s purchase via the Community Preservation Fund of the property from Jay Bialsky, who also owns neighboring 2 West Water Street, where he is in the process of pitching a three-unit, three-story, 27,740-square-foot townhouse development with six dock slips.

“To his credit, Mr. Bialsky readily agreed to it, prepared for it and actually did some prep work for it last week,” Mr. Larocca said. “This clears the way for the work … and the park is ready for development.”

Mr. Bialsky, who has said he intends to make Sag Harbor his family’s home once the townhouses are complete, said on Tuesday he is “very excited that we’re taking a step forward to making the park a reality.”

“I have people in the community who have been very supportive and thanking me for helping the park happen and getting ready to take down the older white building that has been considered an eyesore for many years,” he said. “Overall, I feel there’s been a positive reaction.”

The deal was finalized last week sometime, and the two remaining conditions to that transaction involved removing the two existing buildings.

The West Water Street development will be the subject of a hearing before the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday, August 21, at 5:30 p.m. and a hearing with the Sag Harbor Planning Board on Tuesday, August 28, at 5:30 p.m. Mr. Bialsky’s application requires not only 10 variances, but also a lot line modification to section off the future park property from the residential side. According to plans on file with the village, the park is to be 1.25 acres, while the townhouse development would occupy .69 acres. In the meantime, with the Planning Board having signed off on an updated environmental review of the project that says the proposed townhouses will not have a significant negative impact on the environment, the Sag Harbor Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review last week responded to a request for comment by the Planning Board to say it should look to the ZBA for more information.

That process will unfold parallel to the development of the park, which has already begun but does not have a set timeline, Mr. Larocca said. A design committee headed by noted landscape architect Edmund Hollander has begun meeting to formally design plans, implement ideas that have been collected from stakeholders and constituents and advise the village on next steps.

“Now we have to begin bearing down on actual recommendations,” Mr. Larocca said. “They will continue the process of identifying elements. These will be presented to the trustees and it will be a continual process.”

How the park itself will be managed “is not really before us yet,” he said.

“The more immediate question is how will the planning, design and construction costs be provided for,” Mr. Larocca said. “We are looking at federal and state funding programs that might be deployed for this purpose, and whether the existing structure we have in the village to manage all the properties would work.”

He compared the future John Steinbeck Waterfront Park to Marine Park, which falls within the village’s Department of Public Works, managed by Dee Yardley.

“It may very well be that the management fits into our existing structures,” Mr. Larocca said. “We’re not anticipating Ferris wheels or anything, so it’s probably not as difficult a question as it might sound at the get go. One way or another there will be financing to support it.”

The village will have to take steps to seed or lay sod on the site after the demolition, he said.

“We’re certainly not going to complete the park before winter, so it’s essential that our first task will be to secure the site and groom it and to put some growth in there that will hold the soil,” Mr. Larocca said. “Otherwise you’ll have a lot of dust in downtown, and we don’t want that.”

Mr. Larocca said people can look forward to seeing an expanded view at the waterfront starting this week.

“What they will see for the first time is what we’ve only imagined and that is what is it going to really look like?” he said. “You’re going to see a cleared property in the next few days. It’s one-and-a-quarter acres. That doesn’t sound like very much, but in its context and its place and its expansion of what the village sees of the waterfront, it’s very substantial. It will be the ideal sunset locale for generations to come.”