Whether or not the Southampton Town Board should purchase and preserve 1.25 acres of land on Ferry Road in Sag Harbor, slated to become the John Steinbeck Waterfront Park, will be the subject of a public hearing at Southampton Town Hall on July 10 at 1 p.m.
Southampton Town officials and the newest owner of the property, Sagaponack-based developer Jay Bialsky, signed a contract on May 23 for the $10.5-million purchase of the property through the town’s Community Preservation Fund (CPF). The CPF, funded through a two-percent real estate transfer tax, is used in the five East End towns for open space preservation, the purchase of land for recreation and to preserve historic properties.
The parcel, which stretches from the edge of the Lance Cpl. Jordan C. Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge and includes vacant beachfront, an old parking lot, a former medical building and dockage, was proposed for luxury condominium development for well over a decade.
Following unsuccessful attempts to develop the property, most of it was sold to Greystone Development, which drafted new plans for condominiums on the Ferry Road parcel and the West Water Street waterfront property owned by Bruce Davis, the owner of 1-800-LAWYER in 2015. Led by Sag Harbor Mayor Sandra Schroeder, the village trustees began actively pursuing a public purchase of the project. The village reached an agreement with Greystone in 2016 to carve 1.25 acres of the Ferry Road parcel for a proposed waterfront park designed by landscape architect Edmund Hollander and named for author John Steinbeck.
While disagreements over appraised value stalled a CPF purchase through Southampton Town, it appeared a deal had been struck when it was announced Mr. Bialsky had purchased the Ferry Road and West Water Street properties earlier this year. But Mr. Bialsky, who will propose three townhouses as opposed to the 13 condominiums envisioned in the Greystone Development plan, said he and his wife and two daughters intend to live in one of the residences full time and that a waterfront park was something he understood early on would be an important benefit for the community and would also be an improvement his own family would enjoy.
“Economically, it made more sense to develop it, but from a community standpoint and from the standpoint that this will be my residence, I would rather see a park,” said Mr. Bialsky in a phone interview in late May. “I didn’t ever think I was going to come in and not honor the vision for the park.”
Mr. Bialsky, who has worked on residential development projects on the South Fork since 1994, said the decision to move forward with the purchase of the condominium properties was one made with his wife of 23 years, Terri, and daughters, Gabrielle and Dannielle. The Bialsky family, who call Bridgehampton home, are avid boaters with a dock at the Sag Harbor Cove Yacht Club.
“We have been passing that property and building for so many years now and every summer would talk about how great it would be if we owned it,” said Mr. Bialsky. When a mortgage broker familiar with the property brought the idea of purchasing it to him, Mr. Bialsky held a family meeting with his wife and daughters, who at first didn’t warm to the idea of townhouse living, but warmed to the idea when he started talking about how the project would shrink to just three homes, affording room for amenities including rooftop patios to enjoy the celebrated sunsets over Sag Harbor Cove. “It was not just me saying, ‘This is where we are going.’ It was a decision we made together.”
Mr. Bialsky plans to work with a California architect who is a friend, but also with D&D Harvey Architects, owned by Sag Harbor couple Dave and Dawn Harvey, longtime collaborators of his. “One thing I wanted to do was bring in a local architect … they know what Sag Harbor is all about,” he said.
In addition to reducing the number of dock slips requested to six in total, Mr. Bialsky said his team was also working on strategies to reduce the overall massing of what has been proposed for the property. However, he added that he is open to suggestions and is looking forward to hearing from the Sag Harbor Village Historic Preservation & Architectural Review Board.
“I look at this project almost like it is the community’s project too,” he said. “I feel like it has just been sitting there for so long and it is an eyesore. I am looking to do something that is beautiful and special.”