By Kathryn G. Menu
Parking woes and traffic congestion may have reached a tipping point for a number of Sag Harbor Village residents and business owners this summer, and it appears the village board has heard those cries for help.
Trustee Ken O’Donnell called on the board Tuesday to pass a resolution to hire a consultant who would look at parking and traffic issues in the village.
“I dread the Yogi Berra statement, ‘Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded’,” said Mr. O’Donnell, noting that while the cost of hiring a consultant is not in the current budget, he believes the village needs to move forward. The board, including Mayor Sandra Schroeder, agreed unanimously.
The decision came after a Friday work session, at which the board spent close to two hours discussing a number of issues, including parking, wastewater, and the Long Wharf project. Trustee Robbie Stein raised the issue of parking, noting a number of businesses feel the village is so congested, it is turning business away from the mom-and-pop stores that help define its Main Street. Mr. Stein said he believed the village could look at its existing parking infrastructure and expand its parking space inventory.
What remains unknown, of course, is what will happen with the municipal lot on Bridge Street and Long Island Avenue, which is owned by National Grid, and holds roughly 80 parking spaces that can be used for up to three days. While National Grid has allowed the village to use it rent-free since it completed a costly environmental cleanup, in early September, the company announced it was looking for a long-term lease of the property. Mayor Schroeder has met with National Grid representatives in an effort to secure that lease, although a deal has yet to be signed.
“We don’t know what will happen with the National Grid lot,” said Mr. Stein last Friday, asking Trustee Jim Larocca — a former member of the New York State Public Service Commission and former board member with the Long Island Power Authority — to lead negotiations with National Grid along with Ms. Schroeder. If the village does retain control of the lot, Mr. Stein said it could explore hiring a valet service to park cars there, allowing it to accommodate as many as 60 more cars than it can currently hold. He suggested that kind of initiative could be done as a part of a public private partnership with the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce.
“The Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce is in support of the village acquiring the gravel parking lot and wants to support it wholeheartedly,” wrote chamber president Lisa Field in an October 2 letter to the village board. “We commit ourselves and can be called upon actively to participate in whatever way you feel necessary. There is strong interest in the business community to solve the parking concerns and support extends beyond the members of the chamber. We have seen this in our own chamber meetings, ad hoc meetings of business owners and the group working for a parking solution.”
The village could also implement installing new drainage and reconfiguring the parking lot behind Main Street between Rose and Bridge streets, said Mr. Stein, which could add as many as 45 new spaces. While the village has sought grants for that project, Mr. Stein said it may be time to talk to an engineer about what is really possible. Making West Water Street one way could double parking in that area, added Mr. O’Donnell, and solve some lighting and safety issues on that road as well. Mr. Stein said the village could also look into a trolley or shuttle service, from a location like Havens Beach, to open up parking downtown.
“I agree with absolutely everything Robbie has said,” said Trustee Aidan Corish, asking if the village could create a space for Uber drivers. “Every Uber trip is essentially a parking space,” he said. Village attorney Elizabeth Vail noted that often when designated taxi areas are created, drivers will park there for most of the day waiting for fares. Ms. Schroeder said that was exactly what happened when the village tried to create a taxi stand on Long Wharf over a decade ago.
Mr. Corish asked if spaces for short, 15-minute parking in front of some Main Street businesses would make sense for residents and visitors popping in and out of a grocery store, for example.
“Maybe we should think about hiring a consultant,” said Mr. O’Donnell. “This is higher than our pay grade.”
In other village news, Trustee Stein announced Friday that the village’s plans to restore and redevelop Long Wharf is one of the priority projects selected by the Long Island Economic Council, meaning the estimated $3 million plan could receive grants as high as $2.25 million to $2.5 million, although the village will not have a final figure until December 2.
Mr. Stein has taken the lead on pursuing grant funding for various village projects and said there are several smaller grants available for emergency management, advocating during Friday’s work session that the village consider updating its own emergency management plan.
Related to emergency management, Mr. Stein said the village might consider expanding its sewer district. Should a large storm hit the East End, waterfront homes with cesspools and aging septic systems could compromise the water quality around Sag Harbor.
“We need to understand how much the plant can handle,” said Mr. Corish, the liaison to the village’s wastewater treatment plant, which currently services 89 commercial businesses, and 217 residential properties, including the Watchcase condominiums, and the Harbor’s Edge condos on West Water Street. According to Mr. Stein, as low volume toilets and the like have become standard in renovation projects, the plant has dipped from around 60-percent capacity to an average of 43-percent capacity.
“It would help the efficiency of the plant,” he said. “Especially in the winter, we have a lot of problems maintaining its balance.”
“For some residents, it would be a real burden to hook up to the line,” Mr. Stein admitted. “There may be some grants or individual financing solutions once it is in the emergency management plan.”
The board authorized a number of new hires. Samuel Fisher was hired as a full-time laborer in the Department of Public Works at a salary of $36,643.75. Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Austin McGuire was allowed to hire David Hansen as a full-time police officer at an annual salary of $53,203.41, and Nicholas Acquino as a part-time police officer at a rate of $23 per hour.
Karl Kaiser has resigned as a member of the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals. He will be replaced by board alternate Susan Mead. According to Mayor Schroeder, the village will now seek a new alternate for that board.