Point of View: Long-Term Planning for Sag Harbor Village

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By Kathleen Mulcahy

Thank you to all who attended the trial run of a Saturday Village Board of Trustees work session on October 26.  For anyone who could not attend I have written out my notes about of long-term goals for the village.

Long Term Planning

At a work session in late August, the board undertook a “Quality of Life” planning exercise to begin the discussions of where Sag Harbor Village should or could be in five, 10 and potentially 20 years. This is not a Comprehensive Plan. It focused on what we love about our village what we want to fix and what we fear losing as our popularity and population surges.

We spoke about our history and our waterfront and the need to protect them both.  We spoke about how lucky Sag Harbor was to have a vibrant Main Street filled with shops and restaurants, but how hard it was to park and even drive to that street in summer and how expensive some those shops and restaurants were for year-round residents. And then we spoke more about those residents — how it’s hard for some to keep their houses and harder still for children who grew up here or just younger families to afford to buy in the village. And what was there that we as a government could do to help change the seemingly irreversible tide of homes in the village becoming summer and weekend houses only.

So, after reviewing notes and themes we narrowed down to three areas of focus: The environment, especially the water, transportation and community.

The Environment/Water

At our first board meeting in July we authorized the formation of an Environmental Committee who have been hard at work on about 15 different projects including a clear cutting bill that was introduced on Saturday morning’s agenda, landscapers and resident’s use of leaf blowers and pesticides, energy usage in the village owned properties, dumping and run offs into the drains going to the bay and other programs. Look for continuing news on all these fronts and more.

The biggest area we need to work on is our water.  The water surrounding Sag Harbor attracts people from around the world to live and visit in our village.  Recent years have seen degradation of some of our beaches and waters and we cannot let continue. We MUST do everything we can to protect our water from pollution, overuse and to protect access to the water for all people in Sag Harbor.

This winter you will see the first projects from a series of water quality grants that became available through the Towns’ Community Preservation Funds.  We will be repaving two of the diagonal lots on Bay Street with pervious pavement and filters and adding rain gardens to the water’s edge of Marine Park that will do a better job of absorbing excess rainwater and filtering the runoff before it goes into our bays.  We will also be starting rain gardens projects on the Southampton side of town at Round Pond and on Redwood. And of course, any and all updates to the Sewage Treatment plant and the installation of the nitrogen reducing systems makes a big difference to our water quality.

The Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, a state funded program has begun their fourth revision since 1983 and we have, and will continue to do, public input sessions on what that should contain.  Meanwhile our Planning Board is currently reviewing the entire Sag Harbor Waterfront commercial area to protect and preserve as much access to the waterfront for the public as possible.

Transportation

Trustee Aidan Corish spoke at the work session about some of our short term and long-term goals that came from our September work session on traffic issues. These include an electric shuttle ferrying people from parking lots outside the commercial area to Main Street, and potentially an East End Villages’ paid parking option.  We know we have a traffic problem 100 days out of 365 days a year and we are looking at a variety of long-term solutions making the village more walkable, more car alternative friendly. Change may be slow, but it is coming. Many, many ideas are all still on the table and a huge thank you to all who have brought plans and concepts and passion to helping solve the transportation problems of Sag Harbor.

Community

Which leads to Community … it amazes me how many wonderful, passionate, intelligent volunteers there are already involved in our village and how many more have reached out to get involved.  We have a sense of pride in our village that would be hard to duplicate anywhere on the East End or even beyond. We need to continue the strong sense of volunteerism at all levels of our village. From the children collecting bottle caps to make park benches, or the hard work of Save Sag Harbor and the Sag Harbor Partnership to raise money for village projects.

One  can never say enough about our emergency service volunteers who not only are on call 24/7, willing to get out of warm beds in the middle of the night, or cool pools in the height of summer to go to the aid of their neighbors, but they also go through hours and hours of training, and spend hours and hours fundraising for new trucks, new equipment and other much need supplies that the village just can’t provide.

Our Village boards; the Planning, Zoning, HPARB and Harbor committees work tirelessly to protect our sense of community by preserving the size and scale of what can be built on our small lots and precious open land.  They fight for our historic sensibility in a time of massive modernization and a false sense of need for extravagance that may not work in Sag Harbor as it does elsewhere.  Please keep in mind if you appear before any of our boards that they are trained professionals, chosen for their background and knowledge for the subject, given more training and guidance by village employees and contractors and attorneys, and are doing this for the good of the community.  If they say no, there is a reason and rationale behind their decisions, not just a “power play” or personal vendetta.

But paraphrasing JFK, community is more than what the community does for the village, it is what the village can do for its community.  We as a village government need to help everyone who lives here.  Not just those who come to our meetings, who speak up the loudest or who have the largest house or the most money.  We need to find ways to assist those less fortunate to find places to live and hot meals to eat by supporting the efforts of the churches and services that are trying to help. We need to continue to work with our town partners to build affordable housing, workplace housing and senior housing near enough to schools and shopping to make them viable for a community life, not hidden out in the woods with no transportation options. And we need to help our current residents be able to keep their homes and have the option to either share or pass those homes on to other family members.

Our community also means our Main Street – our local businesses and our local cultural centers. Sag Harbor is fortunate to have the vibrant diverse commercial center that makes us the envy of other villages.  As a government we have re-engaged with the Chamber of Commerce and the various cultural entities in the village help support their efforts at success.  But they need your help too. Our shops and restaurants and theaters and museums need the community shop and eat and visit to survive just we need them to stay on Main Street if we wish to remain the village we are today.

We also need places where our community can gather.  The work on Long Wharf will give us a new and vibrant waterfront area with a boardwalk and gathering area at the end. Steinbeck Park, thanks to the efforts of former Mayor Sandra Schroeder and Trustee Jim Larocca and the Southampton Town Board, will provide an area for picnics and docking and bird watching and sunset viewing that will I assure you be the next hot thing that everyone talks about in Sag Harbor. Havens Beach will be clean enough to swim, to walk and to enjoy, and maybe someday soon we can even have a real dog park.  All these places are for all of us to enjoy together.

So these three guidelines; Environment, Traffic and Community are what we, as a Village Board, hope to focus our energies, and your tax dollars, on in the coming years.

 

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