The Sag Harbor Village Board on Tuesday formally approved a six-month moratorium on the Planning Board’s authority to approve major applications along a swathe of its central waterfront — but not without a spirited back and forth over the makeup of the committee charged with proposing changes to the zoning code that will guide future development in the area.
The board appeared poised to give its stamp of approval to the moratorium after the Suffolk County Planning Commission signed off on the initiative last week, but Trustee James Larocca said he had second thoughts about the makeup of the committee, pointing out that it had no business owners or environmentalists on it.
“None of what I would consider the key constituencies are members of or in the work,” he said. “That can be a mistake in terms of the outcome because we are going to need broad support coming out of it.”
Mr. Larocca also objected to the fact that Village Board members were not allowed to take part in the study group’s initial meetings, saying that as elected officials they should be involved in the decision-making process.
Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy said the committee was formed to get the process rolling so that the team of consultants, which has been charged with coming up with proposals for a “form based code” for the waterfront that would rely more on general guidelines overseeing the size and type of buildings allowed and less on strict dimensional size limits and setback requirements, can do its work in a timely manner.
She said a number of community members were invited to initial meetings and added that “I haven’t had one person call me and say, ‘Hey, I really want to be part of this.’”
“I don’t know why you think someone along the waterfront who has been invited to a meeting is more likely to speak to a consultant from Buffalo than their elected representative,” Mr. Larocca said. “I just don’t understand that.”
But Ms. Mulcahy said board members were asked to not attend the meetings because she and Trustee Robert Plumb were already on the committee and a third member would constitute a quorum and an official meeting of the board.
Mr. Larocca found support from Trustee Thomas Gardella, who said he thought adding an environmentalist and property or business owner to the committee would be a good idea.
“Whatever happens here is going to affect all of Sag Harbor,” he said.
But Mr. Plumb and Trustee Aiden Corish sided with the mayor.
“I think it is a recipe for disaster,” Mr. Plumb said of the suggestion that the committee be expanded. “You might as well have everyone in town involved.”
And Mr. Corish pointed out that the committee will not be making policy but bringing recommendations to the board for discussion. “I would hate for anybody to go away from this conversation with the idea that decisions are being made in secret,” he said. “Nothing could be farther from the truth.”
While board members opposed Mr. Larocca’s suggestion that the committee be expanded by a 3-2 vote with Mr. Gardella joining him in the minority, they agreed that board members should be allowed to monitor committee meetings. However, they did not discuss whether that would constitute a formal meeting of the Village Board, which requires public notice.
Steinbeck Waterfront Park
The board also set aside time to solicit public input on plans for John Steinbeck Waterfront Park, but received only one comment — from Mary Ann Eddy, the chairwoman of the Harbor Committee. She told the board that one of the chief concerns of her committee is reducing water pollution from upland sources and urged it to require a standard 50-foot buffer of native plants between the park and the waterfront and to install a rain garden along the park’s northern edge to collect and filter road runoff.
Mayor Mulcahy said the board would solicit more input when it holds its monthly work session on October 24.