More Parking, Less Flooding Proposed for Sag Harbor’s “Back-Square”

An aerial view of the Rose Street municipal parking lot behind Main Street showing the site as it looks today. The outline marks off an area that has long been prone to flooding. Courtesy F. Michael Hemmer Professional Surveying Services
An aerial view of the Rose Street municipal parking lot behind Main Street showing the site as it looks today. The outline marks off an area that has long been prone to flooding. Courtesy F. Michael Hemmer Professional Surveying Services
An aerial view of the Rose Street municipal parking lot behind Main Street showing the site as it looks today. The outline marks off an area that has long been prone to flooding. Courtesy F. Michael Hemmer Professional Surveying Services

By Douglas Feiden

The low-lying, flood-prone, back-of-Main-Street parking lot is expected to undergo a dramatic transformation that will reinvent it as a greener, flood-resistant and environmentally friendly space, according to preliminary plans that were unveiled at a meeting of the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees on Tuesday, May 31.

Rain gardens and landscaping will be inserted into narrow green strips in a rebuilt municipal lot, while storm water-absorbing bio-filters will be incorporated to protect both the bay and local streets from pollutants and harmful run-off, a draft of the plan that was presented to the public by Trustee Robby Stein shows.

The reconfiguration of the back lot will also provide a major boost to merchants — and residents and visitors whose hunt for parking spaces in the high season can seem interminable — by increasing the proposed capacity of the area to 148 parking stalls from the existing tally of 107 stalls, a blueprint for the site plan indicates.

Can there possibly be anything sexy about a parking lot? Actually, yes. The idea is to make the facility clean and green, but also to position it as an environmentally cool educational site, possibly outfitted with signs and placards, to teach the students of Pierson about water-related issues and demonstrate a variety of cutting-edge green technologies.

And down the road a bit, the municipal lot — bounded by Rose Street on the north, Spring Street on the south, Meadow Street on the east and Bridge Street on the west — could even become what Mr. Stein dubs a “back-square,” a public space resembling a village green, but sitting in the rear of the core commercial district.

The bottom line: “It will be healthy for the harbor, the water and the bay,” Mr. Stein said in an interview. “It greens the whole area. It turns it into a much more inviting place. It helps the traffic flow in the Village. It serves as a teaching facility. And not least, it adds 41 new parking spaces.”

On the drawing board is a plan to introduce plantings, grasses, shrubs, rain gardens and vegetation in newly landscaped areas that will effectively slow the flow of storm water, which will be captured in stalks and roots — and then cleansed and released or held it until eventually evaporates.

At the same time, so-called “drive isles,” where motorists travel in an east-west course as they search for parking, will be decreased in width to create more parking slots. And Rose Street will be reconfigured and edged to the south to provide perpendicular parking on both sides of the street, where now there is only parallel parking, also adding more spaces.

There will be clear visual benefits resulting from the revamped lot, which is currently a triangular-shaped asphalt dominion that floods even in moderate rainfalls, turns into a healthy sized lake during heavy storms, and very often appears unsightly, ungainly or worse.

“It’s ugly as hell back there, and it always has been!” said Sag Harbor Mayor Sandra Schroeder in an interview. “Now, we are going to make more sense of the area, and it’ll be awful nice when it’s done.

“There’ll be rain gardens and plants and trees and other nice little amenities to filter and clean the water and keep contaminants out of the bay, and we’re going to improve the parking and the traffic situation. It will also have an educational aspect, and our science classes will want to come by to see all the improvements.”

Two years in the planning, the project — formally known as “The Retrofit Plan for Water Retention and Control of Run Off Into the Harbor” — comprises what Mr. Stein calls “one of the few environmental and structural retrofits on the East End.”

A retrofit involves taking an older system, in this case, a sprawling and multi-acre parking facility that sits atop a major drainage area, and environmentally readopting, redeveloping and modernizing it in place.

“One of the primary causes of both pollution and flooding in areas adjacent to the Peconic Estuary is the way storm water runoff is managed,” according to a written description of the project. “As a result, there is a growing need to retrofit these areas to mitigate hazards and control damaging outflows and pollutants into the fragile estuary system.

“It is the intention of this project to chart a way to control this problem by offering a demonstration area that stops flooding, beautifies an asphalt parking lot — and acts as an educational site and model for private property owners and other municipalities.”

A ballpark estimate of the total cost to plan, design, engineer and construct the new parking lot, and its accompanying landscaping and storm water controls, was not immediately available. Since the retrofit plan is still in draft form and subject to revision, no cost projections have yet been firmed-up.

But a $10,000 grant from the New Tudor Foundation — which is being administered by the Sag Harbor Partnership, a nonprofit that creates public-private partnerships — has already provided seed money to help fund surveying, engineering and design work.

“Storm water and how you deal with it is going to be a huge issue in the village,” said Susan Mead, the president of the Partnership.

“To be able to solve the flooding, create a better parking lot in terms of capacity, and also beautify it is a home run in what will be viewed as a public demonstration project for future public works projects in the village and elsewhere,” she added.

Accordingly, Sag Harbor’s design-and-build community has been pitching in: Landscape architect Edmund Hollander will be doing the design work for a 3-D color rendering of the project on a pro bono basis. Engineer David Rhoades, of TF Engineering, provided $9,030 in pro bono services for drafting, engineering and hydrology research, billing only $4,500. Surveyor F. Michael Hemmer shaved $1,000 off his fees for a topographic survey of the project.

Ms. Mead waxes enthusiastic about these gifts of time and services, saying Mr. Hollander will be working his “magic,” Mr. Hemmer is a “terrific surveyor,” and Mr. Rhoades is “our great engineer” and an “unsung hero” for his volunteer work for the village.

“It was Robby’s vision, and David’s knowledge of innovative environmental engineering practices, that produced this demonstration project,” she said. “Our mission includes enhancing and preserving the environment, so being provided the opportunity to administer this grant was a real opportunity and pleasure.”

Mr. Stein said that the pro bono donations and in-kind support, combined with the initial $10,000 start-up grant, amounted to some $40,000 to $50,000 in funds that had either already been spent or earmarked to get the project off the ground.

Those contributions will be paired with requests for larger grants that the Village is pursuing with the help of the Peconic Estuary Protection Committee, Mr. Stein says.

Potential funding sources include Suffolk County’s Drinking Water Protection Program, the New York Department of State’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Water Quality Improvement Grant Program, project documents say.

“If we get the needed grants, the work could be completed fairly quickly,” Mr. Stein says. “Ideally, that could mean the summer of 2017, or possibly, by the summer of 2018.”