Sag Harbor Mayor Jim Larocca said this week he expected to be able to provide an updated draft of a proposed waterfront overlay district to his colleagues on the Village Board early next week so they would be prepared to discuss it when the board holds its next meeting on October 12.
The mayor offered his assurances as some members of the board and the broader community have begun to sound the alarm that the slow pace of action on the proposal, which was introduced a year ago by former Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy, would mean that the Village Board would not have enough time to complete the rezoning process before a twice-extended development moratorium expires February 28.
“I believe there is enough time, but there is no time to waste,” said Trustee Aidan Corish. “If we don’t come to terms with this by the meeting in October, all bets are off. This is not like paid parking. If paid parking doesn’t work, we just stop doing it. This is ‘you bet your village.’”
Mayor Mulcahy, with the backing of the chairs of village regulatory boards, proposed a waterfront overlay district to counter what they saw as the imminent threat of overdevelopment on the waterfront as more and more property changes hands such as the purchase last year of the Water Street Shops property by Friends of Bay Street as a home for a new theater.
A team of planning consultants unveiled a form based code that sought to provide specific design guidelines for different uses that would be allowed in the district. The proposal also called for a two-story height limit on most buildings along the waterfront while requiring developers to leave open areas between buildings to provide views of the water.
But the process soon bogged down, with board members questioning the types of uses that would be allowed in the district and then-Trustee Larocca questioning its boundaries and the very objective of the effort.
The mayor, who initially questioned if the plan should be scrapped and replaced with an all-new proposal, has since softened his position.
“I initially thought the best way to proceed would be to start with a new introduction,” he said, “but as I thought about it and worked with more people, it seemed better to introduce the June draft and schedule it for a public hearing.”
That was done in August, with Mr. Larocca saying his goal was to tailor his proposed changes to the law to fit that draft. “A lot of good work has been done,” he said. “We will retain that and build on it.”
A major change to the law will involve its boundaries. It will now extend eastward to include the Cor Maria Retreat House property and west beyond the Beacon restaurant to include the motels, the Villa condominiums and even the WLNG radio station and Ship Ashore and Redwood Anchorage marinas.
Mr. Larocca said “one of the mysteries” of the original code proposal was that it did not include all property that could be redeveloped along the entire waterfront. “I could never reconcile the vague justification for having left them out,” he said.
The mayor said he would make other changes to the proposed law, but said he would not share them “because it is a work in progress” and he wanted to present them to the other board members first.
But some onlookers, including Mr. Corish, have grown concerned that if too many changes are made, the law will have to be put through the public notice process again, making it impossible to complete it in time. Plus, they say, even if the law is good to go, more time will be needed to review the proposed code changes through the State Environmental Quality Review Act, or SEQRA, refer them to the Harbor Committee to see if they mesh with the Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, a major planning document that aims to protect the waterfront for largely maritime uses, and send the finished law to the Suffolk County Planning Commission for its review.
This week, the civic group Save Sag Harbor also urged the mayor to move quickly.
“Save Sag Harbor urges Mayor Larocca to share his markups of the Waterfront Overlay Code at the next Board of Trustees meeting on October 12. If not, we are concerned that there will not be enough time for public input, SEQRA review, and county approvals with the moratorium ending on February 28,” the group said in a statement. “We also request a calendar of these important milestone dates be published so that the public can stay informed and involved in this important process.”
“You’ll remember that in the summer when we proposed that we extend the moratorium some said ‘the county will never let you do that,’” Mr. Larocca said. “I would remind those folks that the Suffolk County Planning Commission approved our request unanimously. But I’m not focused on that at all because unless something unforeseen happens in the next few days, I fully expect to get a draft to my colleagues on the board by early next week.”