By Douglas Feiden
The on-again, off-again plans to develop a luxury, waterfront condominium complex on the 1, 3 and 5 Ferry Road parcels could be off again – forever this time – if the Sag Harbor village trustees get their way.
At a Tuesday night board meeting, the five trustees unanimously passed a resolution hiring a prominent eminent domain attorney as special counsel to bring condemnation proceedings against the owners of the harbor-facing property.
“It’s always been in my mind that it should be a park for the village,” said Sag Harbor Mayor Sandra Schroeder in an interview on Wednesday. “We don’t have many opportunities to preserve our water views in this village.”
In fact, the long-derelict site near the Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge – once home to the Remkus Fishing Station and Harborview Professional Building — has already been dubbed, informally and unofficially, “John Steinbeck Memorial Park.”
But Greystone Property Development Corp., the lead developer, has other ideas: It “remains deeply committed” to the project’s completion, it said in a statement, arguing it will “only enhance the Sag Harbor waterfront.”
“We are disappointed to learn of the village’s decision to retain special counsel and remain baffled by the village’s unwillingness to engage with us in a constructive dialogue,” Greystone said. “Since our involvement with the properties, we have sought to work cooperatively with the village and even proposed to include public green space as part of the development to accommodate the village’s desire for community access to the waterfront.”
Taking up the cudgels for the village as $300-an-hour special counsel is Saul Fenchel, a partner at Garden City-based Berkman, Henoch, Peterson, Peddy & Fenchel, who has litigated eminent domain condemnation proceedings for more than 35 years.
Tellingly, his most recent victory involved a waterfront park: Mr. Fenchel represented the Great Neck Park District in a successful case to expand the park through the taking of adjoining, privately held property.
The 68-year-old Mr. Fenchel, a Lloyd Harbor resident and Boston University Law School graduate, said it was too early to discuss the case. “The village is the client, and the village makes the determination as to what direction to take in the matter,” he said.
As a first step, the village must obtain appraisals of the property, survey the property, hire an engineer to begin an environmental review and then hold a public hearing, said Village Attorney Fred W. Thiele Jr.
“The point of the public hearing is to determine whether or not there is a valid public purpose, and in this case, it’s not an issue because obviously a park is a valid public purpose,” he said.
Subsequently, the village could move to court, cash in hand, to take the property, paying what it deems fair market value, based on its appraisal, which the owner can either accept or challenge.
In a dispute, a judge would be the arbiter of actual value — and would have the power to either approve or derail a proposed taking.
Mr. Thiele believes the public purpose standard is easily met, but adds, “The issue for the village will ultimately be about valuation, and if they’re comfortable with the potential risk with what the value of the property will ultimately be.”
In condemnation, he said, a municipality can own a property before knowing what it will actually cost.
Meanwhile, Sag Harbor Planning Board Chairman Greg Ferraris said he was unaware of the village board’s decision, and that by law, the planning board would continue to review the proposed condo project.
Additional reporting by Kathryn G. Menu