Split Board Postpones Vote on Townhouses as Developer Speaks Up

Developer Jay Bialsky, center, brought a 3D model of the proposed townhouses to Thursday's meeting. Michael Heller photo

Developer Jay Bialsky spoke up Thursday night on his proposal for a complex of townhouses on prime Sag Harbor waterfront real estate, offering a sobering reminder for the Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review as well as the standing-room-only crowd that had gathered for the second part of a public hearing on the matter.

Mr. Bialsky said he is foregoing approximately 63,000 square feet of combined, potential build-out on his properties at 2 West Water Street and at 1, 3 and 5 Ferry Road. Whereas the prior owner, Greystone Development, had planned to build 13 units, Mr. Bialsky has opted for just three units totaling just under 24,000 square feet and has negotiated the sale of the rest of his property to Southampton Town for the anticipated John Steinbeck Waterfront Park.

“I’m very proud of where we are now. I’ve listened to comments from the community,” Mr. Bialsky said. “What I’m proud to be part of is that there’s going to be a park – there’s going to be open space forever. I don’t think too many developers would come in here and say I have 63,000 square feet and I’m doing 24,000 square feet.”

He continued by calling the current proposal a “win win.”

“I think I have done the right thing by this community,” Mr. Bialsky said. “Yes, my buildings are bigger than usual, but that’s because it’s cluster development. This is intelligent decision making between the zoning board and, hopefully, this board.”

The review board took a straw poll and found two members were in favor – John “Chris” Connor and Dean Gomolka – and two members were opposed – chairman Anthony Brandt and Judith Long, the board’s alternate. Member Bethany Deyermond was absent.

The split board then postponed formally voting on the plan when its attorney, Elizabeth Vail, advised them that the board member whose vote would decide the matter needed to review recordings of Mr. Bialsky’s prior appearances before he could cast a vote. As of Thursday that board member, David Berridge, was just two meetings into his tenure on the board.

“I would ask the board to allow him time to come up to speed before he votes,” Ms. Vail said. To Mr. Berridge, she said, “If you want to vote on this, you have to do it.”

The board agreed and tabled the vote to its February 14 meeting – which Mr. Brandt announced would likely be his last meeting, as he plans to resign from the review board after he votes on the 2 West Water Street application.

Mr. Brandt’s announcement came with an explanation for why his straw vote was “no.”

“It is too big from my perspective,” he said. “…I can’t vote for it. I really appreciate everything Mr. Bialsky has done. He has modified the project, he has split it up … but to me that’s still too big. I can’t approve it.”

Ms. Long said she liked parts of the townhouse proposal, but took issue with the third unit, the one set back farthest from the street and proposed as a white brick structure. “I appreciate all the effort that has gone into the negotiating,” she said. “But my final thought on the whole thing is that coming over the bridge that is going to be a big thing to look at, so I’m going to vote no.”

Mr. Connor said his “yes” vote came with the acknowledgment that the current structure on the site, known as the “1-800 Lawyers” building, is an eyesore in charming Sag Harbor. “Nothing’s quaint about this building right now,” he said. “That means that I will vote yes.”

Mr. Gomolka said he feels the project has “come a long way.”

“We started from some monstrosity,” he said. “This applicant has come way down, split up the building, and instead of 13 units, we have three. … This is much better. I appreciate it. I’m a yes.”

Mr. Berridge acknowledged he had only just received previous meetings’ recordings that day and said he was still in the process of reviewing the full record.

“I want to vote for a successful building here because the waterfront needs to be vibrant … it needs to be activated,” he said. “… We owe it to the village to do our best work.”