Sag Harbor Mayor and Village Board of Trustees Look to the Future

Sag Harbor Village Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy during a work session on Saturday, 10/26/19. Michael Heller photo

The environment and water quality, transportation and community will be the ternary of issues the Sag Harbor Village Board hopes to dig into as it addresses quality of life issues through long-term planning.

“This is not a comprehensive plan,” said Sag Harbor Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy during the Village Board’s first Saturday morning work session, where the mayor and the trustees delivered an informal “State of the Village” to just over two dozen community members. “This is not something where we are bringing planners in. This is how do we feel about where we are today, where we want to be five years, 10 years, 20 years from now, and what we as a village government and as village residents can do to help us get there and realize our visions.”

While the focus of this new administration — Ms. Mulcahy was elected mayor in June — came into focus on Saturday, she noted that it was a process that began with a work session in August, as the Village Board began talking to residents about priorities as Sag Harbor struggles with its own popularity — an economic boon for local businesses, but one that also increases problems like traffic, water quality and the cost of housing.

And the Village of Sag Harbor’s popularity is not waning. According to Ms. Mulcahy, at a Long Island Visitors Bureau meeting earlier this month, she was informed that 6.1 billion came through Long Island over the last year — and Sag Harbor was the fifth-most-popular destination, and the only village to make the top five.

The Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce has also reported that business on Main Street was strong this year. Revenues in the village are also reflective of its continued popularity as a destination: Parking ticket revenue is up 30 percent, dock revenues have increased 28 percent this year, and revenue from the village justice court is also up by 14 percent, said Ms. Mulcahy.

“We also, as a village, sold more houses for the first three quarters of the year than any other village or hamlet, except for Montauk,” she added.

The increase in people, noted Trustee Thomas Gardella, translates to an increased burden on the village’s emergency service providers.

He said the Sag Harbor Volunteer Ambulance Corps has a capacity for 45 members but is only 28 members strong — and averages 750 calls a year. The Sag Harbor Fire Department numbers are strong within the five companies: There are 165 members, but only between 40 and 45 are trained to fight interior fires.

“If you do the math, you can see the volunteers are doing a lot of work to maintain emergency services,” said Mr. Gardella, noting that while the department is supportive of projects like the renovation of Long Wharf and the creation of the John Steinbeck Waterfront Park, its members would also like to see upgrades to the fire department headquarters and the ambulance corps building, which Mr. Gardella said needs to be completely renovated or rebuilt.

“In the future, moving forward, we need to budget for these buildings and making improvements to where the volunteers work,” he said.

Protecting — and improving — assets like parkland and public space also are crucial, said board member James Larocca, who championed the purchased and creation of Steinbeck Park along with former Mayor Sandra Schroeder. Protecting the beachfront at Havens Beach remains a priority, he said, as does a need for capital improvements at the docks at Marine Park.

Later in the session, Ms. Mulcahy noted that the village has a request for proposals out to replace Smart Sponge filtration at Havens Beach to improve water quality there.

As the village continues to remain on schedule with the renovation of Long Wharf, Mr. Larocca noted that the village will explore installing electricity on the wharf as funding allows and also is taking a closer look at its transient dock fees.

Certainly the most talked about piece of parkland, the Steinbeck Park, will continue to take shape, he said, as a committee headed by landscape architect Edmund Hollander begins to look at how to raise funding to develop that land, through private and public monies.

“As we get to next summer and fall, hopefully, we’ll have some resources to do some ground-breaking around Labor Day 2020,” he said.

Board member Bob Plumb, newly elected this past June, is the liaison to the Building Department. He announced two zoning code updates (see related story on A1) meant to strengthen the code and make it clearer for applicants.

Studies have shown that villages and towns like Sag Harbor that adhere to historic district guidelines for redevelopment show more stable real estate values, he said. “It is a benefit to the community, and when someone comes to the community and chooses to live in Sag Harbor, they are choosing to adopt our philosophies.”

Parking has long been a priority for board member Aidan Corish, who reaffirmed his belief that Sag Harbor’s parking problem is a problem just “10 weeks of the year.” To date, through simple re-striping, he said the village has created roughly 35 new parking spaces and has introduced eight short-term parking spaces on Main Street.

But the village also will need to change perception about parking in Sag Harbor, he noted, showcasing how many spaces actually exist and working on ways to get cars more efficiently in and out of the business district.

Mr. Corish said the village has begun conversations with the Sag Harbor School District and local churches on how to share parking spaces during the busy summer months, shuttling visitors downtown.

Mr. Corish said he believes that should be a privatized service, and on Monday the mayor confirmed that the village has been approached by a number of companies to provide the service, including one owned by Jack Brinkley-Cook. The son of model Christie Brinkley, Mr. Brinkley-Cook launched Rove, a luxury transportation service between New York City and Montauk this past summer.

“We are also going to bring in a couple companies to talk to us about doing paid parking,” she added, “and looking at the wharf and Main Street and coming up with some creative ways to do that.”

Ms. Mulcahy said Sag Harbor officials are hoping to partner with East Hampton and Southampton villages in that effort, and perhaps use a uniform parking app throughout the South Fork, a concept Mr. Corish also discussed on Saturday, saying he hopes to see a system in place by summer 2020.

“One of the advantages is for someone participates as they come into the village, they would know where parking is available, taking away from that inevitable churn on Main Street … We don’t want to have to change our village dramatically to accommodate parking.”

Addressing water quality issues, Mr. Corish noted that Sag Harbor’s successful Main Street is only possible because of its “unsung hero,” the wastewater treatment plant, which is designed with a capacity of 250,000 gallons a day but peaks at between 110,000 and 115,000 gallons a day in high season.

The village recently released a request for proposals for a sewage district master plan to increase wastewater services in areas along the shoreline, or where water tables are high. “That is the low-hanging fruit,” Mr. Corish said, adding that, in the long term, perhaps as far out as 20 years, he would like to see the wastewater treatment plant moved and enlarged.

“I think there is no doubt: As the water goes, so does the rest of the village,” he said.

As far as the three focuses of the village’s long-term plan, Ms. Mulcahy said expanding the reach of the sewage treatment plant is key to environmental protection, an issue the newly formed environmental committee is trying to address through 15 different projects. In addition to a clear-cutting restriction the board introduced on Saturday, Ms. Mulcahy said the village also would look to limit leaf blower activity and the use of pesticides.

The village’s Local Waterfront Revitilization Plan is undergoing a revision, and Ms. Mulcahy said the public will have an opportunity to be a part of that revision over the course of the next year. Pervious pavement and rain garden projects are planned on Bay Street and around Marine Park to better absorb rainwater and stormwater runoff before it enters the bay — projects, she noted, that are funded with the towns’ Community Preservation Fund revenues.

In terms of keeping community in place, Ms. Mulachy said she could not emphasize the importance of volunteerism: “Please think about volunteering, talk about volunteering with neighbors and friends — we cannot survive without our emergency service volunteers.”

But preserving a year-round community is also critical, she said, vowing to work with the towns on housing opportunities. “This housing needs to be near schools, it needs to be near towns, it needs to be viable,” she said.

“Main Street is also our community,” said Ms. Mulcahy. “Our local businesses and our local cultural centers need your support, and in turn they need to support you.”