By Kathryn G. Menu
In the face of continued opposition, the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees tabled a proposed law Tuesday that would remove a requirement for some applicants before the Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review to post physical signs on their properties announcing their development plans.
The board tabled the legislation for the second time in two months, with trustees stating they would like to explore whether a new online posting system would suffice as a mechanism to communicate with the public, while reducing the workload for building department staff.
The decision came after a lengthy work session Friday, at which some board members attempted to workshop the legislation in an effort to find common ground with critics, and improve communication between the village and members of the public.
As currently proposed, the law would remove a requirement that applicants for projects that do not require a public hearing before the BHPARB post physical signs on their properties. That requirement, said Mayor Sandra Schroeder at both the work session and during Tuesday night’s monthly meeting, adds roughly four hours of work to the building department staff’s duties between helping to create the signs and checking that they are actually posted. The legislation also deletes a provision requiring all decisions be made in writing, and adds a two-year expiration date for approvals.
Last month, some residents and non-profits came out in opposition to the law, raising concerns that it would leave residents without a critical, and simple, tool to inform them about potential changes in their neighborhoods.
“I agree with the intent of the law,” said board member Aidan Corish, adding the board had discussed ways it could communicate with village residents if the postings were not in place. One option Mr. Corish said was on the table was to create an ongoing list of applications before the village boards, which residents could access through the village’s website, sagharborny.gov.
Board members Ken O’Donnell and Robbie Stein agreed with Mr. Corish, with Mr. O’Donnell calling the idea “a great compromise.
“I agree with Aidan — I think the law is a good law, but the communication is the problem,” said Mr. Stein.
East Hampton attorney Jeffrey Bragman, representing Save Sag Harbor, disagreed with the law, and the proposed solution.
“I think this initiative is a step backward and I think the wrong move for local government to make,” said Mr. Bragman. “It will increase the opacity of what you do, and transparency to neighbors and residents is absolutely essential if you are going to protect the village.”
Mr. Bragman said he believed there should be an “easy mechanism” for residents to become aware about potential changes in their neighborhoods.
“People should not have to log onto a computer to find out what is going on in their own village,” he added. “We need more transparency, not less, and sometimes the old-fashioned way is a pretty good way, and I think slapping a sign up is not too much to ask from a neighbor. Your village, our village, is under a lot of pressure, and your boards do the best job when they hear from neighborhoods.”
Renee Simons, a Sag Harbor Hills resident and member of the Sag Harbor Hills, Azurest, Ninevah Subdivisions (S.A.N.S.) organization that has formed as those communities have seen a dramatic increase in residential development in the last two years, agreed with Mr. Bragman.
In lieu of the board scrapping the law altogether, Ms. Simons said Sag Harbor Hills legal committee chair, Lisa Stenson Desamours, and the neighbor association president, Eglon Simons, had submitted recommendations for ways they believed the law could be more specific. First, the neighborhood association suggests the village specifically define what minor applications would not require posting, including roof replacement, painting and staining, shingling, the installation of storm windows or doors and gutters and leaders, as well as the construction of porch steps, and split rail fences less than 4-feet high, among other small construction projects.
Notwithstanding that definition, the neighborhood association also suggests language be included to allow the board to demand a public hearing on any minor application if it feels it is warranted. They also ask the village to post agendas a week in advance to ensure residents have time to inform themselves about a project by reviewing the building department file.
Board member James Larocca, noting he had just received the letter from the neighborhood association, agreed with Mr. Corish, Mr. O’Donnell and Mr. Stein that the board should not adopt the law until it sees if the proposed online listing works as a new form of communication.
“As the community becomes more and more a place of second homeowners, this could help them understand what is going on when they are gone,” said Mr. O’Donnell.