Sag Harbor Unveils John Steinbeck Waterfront Park Plans

The John Steinbeck Waterside Park. Ed Hollander design.

By Douglas Feiden

A long derelict, no-man’s land that for decades has marred Sag Harbor’s waterfront and virtually barricaded beach access would be stripped away and replaced by a landscaped emerald Eden that would create a new gateway to the village and a family-friendly public space like nothing else that now exists on the East End, according to design plans unveiled before the village board on Tuesday night.

The John Steinbeck Waterfront Park would transform the triangular-shaped, roughly 2.75-acre parcel behind the 7-Eleven into an open, verdant oasis boasting a raft of educational, historic, marine, literary, botanic, ornithological, meteorological and, of course, recreational offerings.

A planked, water-facing boardwalk would ring the property’s northwestern perimeter, and an ecology trail, with plaques outlining the area’s natural history and species diversity, would meander to the west of the Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge, the blueprints for the last major undeveloped waterfront parcel in Sag Harbor indicate.

Meanwhile, a literary trail, with plaques celebrating the life and works of Steinbeck, who wrote the “Winter of Our Discontent” in Sag Harbor, would angle its way past rain gardens, while a history trail, with key dates outlining the village’s growth, would thread a path through twin columns of drought-tolerant beach perennials.

A circumferential amphitheater would host community events, and along with a fescue-grass lawn and fields of native beach grass, it would replace the site’s long-abandoned Remkus Fishing Station and Harborview Professional Building. Two sandy beaches would beckon.

And that’s just a small fraction of the public amenities that could one day grace the new park, according to the updated conceptual design plans drawn up for the village on a pro bono basis by the landscape architect Edmund Hollander, a quarter-century resident of Sag Harbor.

“It will allows us to connect Long Wharf and the passage under the bridge along the waterfront so that we can, at last, start to unify the waterfront of Sag Harbor,” he said at the briefing. “Residents will be able to access the water. You won’t be forced to fish under the bridge anymore.”

There would be a floating dock and fishing pier jutting water-wards from its boardwalk anchor. Bird-watchers could enjoy an osprey-nest stand and a migratory and sea bird overlook. Dune fortifications would shield the coast against storm surges. School kids could frolic in the Young Whalers Playground, experience the Marine Life of Sag Harbor Mosaic or visit a mini-weather station. And the park would be illuminated with ample bollard lighting and outfitted with public restrooms roofed by solar panels.

“This will help us improve the ecology of both the upland areas of the site and the wetland buffer areas and start to deal with the water-quality issues of Sag Harbor Cove through the use of rain gardens and bioswales,” Mr. Hollander said. “And we are even discussing the possibility of replanting the oyster beds and eelgrass beds to work toward the larger goal of improving the water quality in both the cove and Peconic Bay in general.”

Board members were sold: “This will be utterly transformative to the village in opening up the waterfront from its earlier commercial uses — a railroad depot, a fishing station, a lumberyard — to a community amenity that will literally serve thousands of residents over time,” said Trustee James Larocca, who played a key role in renewed efforts to develop the park.

Agreed Mayor Sandra Schroeder, “Many see this as our last chance to get it right and save our historic waterfront.”

But there are huge hurdles to overcome before the park can ever take shape. For one thing, three of parcels that make up the bulk of the site are now owned by Greystone Property Development Corp. — which has very different ideas about what to do with its holdings.
Greystone is the lead developer, in partnership with East End Ventures, on a proposed luxury waterfront condominium complex at the 1, 3 and 5 Ferry Road properties, which the village has long coveted for the proposed park. In addition, Greystone was in contract to purchase 2 West Water Street, better known as the 1-800-Lawyers building from the avocation of a former owner, the attorney Bruce Davis, which the village more recently has been seeking to acquire. At this point, they do not formally own that parcel.

Mr. Hollander’s plans call for razing the three-story white building for use as a 10-space parking area. “It would take some pressure off the load of vehicles that already tries to come on and off the bridge in summer,” he said.

But the developer plans to build three harbor-facing condos in Mr. Davis’ former home and another eight next to it. It’s hired the prominent architect Robert A.M. Stern for design work and is committed to the project and doesn’t intend to sell, executives have told the village.

“Greystone and East End Ventures plan to move forward with development of residences at the 1, 3, 5 Ferry Road and 2 West Water Street location, and we believe the Robert A.M. Stern-designed homes will be a beautiful addition to the Sag Harbor community,” said Jeffrey Simpson, head of Greystone.

At the request of the village, the Town of Southampton put the Ferry Road plots on its Community Preservation Fund list last fall. But CPF requires a “willing seller,” and Greystone is unwilling. The village is now pursuing condemnation proceedings to take the property.

“The village does not need or want more condominiums,” Mayor Schroeder says. “What we want and need is a transformative park plan that will build on our maritime heritage and protect it for our children, their children, and their children’s children into the future.”

No price tag or budget has been publicly released for the development of Steinbeck Park.