Steinbeck Park Plan Stalls as Town, Village Tussle Over Details

Ed Hollander reimagined an abandoned parking lot along Sag Harbor Cove into the proposed John Steinbeck Memorial Park.
Hollander reimagined an abandoned parking lot along Sag Harbor Cove into the proposed John Steinbeck Memorial Park.

By Christine Sampson

The sale of an undeveloped parcel as the potential site of the “John Steinbeck Waterfront Park” has been stalled for the moment as its owner tussles with Southampton Town and Sag Harbor Village over its price tag and future development potential.

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said Wednesday the town is waiting for village officials to provide information on how exactly the parkland parcel could be developed in the future, which, he said, will influence the offer the town makes to Greystone Property Development for the approximately 1.25-acre parcel. The property is part of a larger, 1.94-acre property located at 1, 3 and 5 Ferry Road, where Greystone has proposed a 13-unit condominium complex.

Mr. Schneiderman described the offer as a “multi-million dollar offer” made through the town’s Community Preservation Fund.

According to Sag Harbor Village Trustee Ken O’Donnell, the most recent two appraisals came in 75 percent lower than a pair of appraisals the town did two years ago when Anna Throne-Holst was supervisor.

“We had a meeting with Southampton Town, Greystone and Sag Harbor about 10 days ago to try and clear up the disparity and for Sag Harbor to voice its opinion that there was a mistake in the calculations,” Mr. O’Donnell said Wednesday. “We’re trying in good faith to work with Greystone and Southampton Town to see this become a reality.”

Mary Wilson, director of Southampton Town CPF, said she could not comment on current negotiations. The Express reported in April that Sag Harbor Village had paid about $18.1 million into Southampton’s CPF coffers since the fund was established in 1999, but the town had only funded four separate purchases totaling $1.7 million in Sag Harbor Village during that time.

During the May 23 meeting of the Sag Harbor Planning Board, attorney Dennis Downes, representing Greystone, called the current appraisal “a very low number, a ridiculous number.” He also called it “a ridiculous method of appraising the property, as if there was a transfer of development rights,” and said the ball is in the village’s court at this point.

“We’re in agreement to sell it to the village,” Mr. Downes said during the meeting. “The problem is can the village acquire the money they need to do it, and right now, they’re relying 100 percent on CPF. Even [village attorney] David Gilmartin recognizes that and is wrestling with the problem right now. … The burden is on him now to go to the town and negotiate. It’s probably going to be a political decision.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Schneiderman disagreed with Mr. Downes’s assessment, calling the town’s offer “a strong number.”

“We can only pay fair market value,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “If the appraisers made assumptions that were incorrect, we will fix that. We never made any efforts to lowball it.”

Mr. Gilmartin said Wednesday that Mr. Downes “is badly mistaken,” saying that “to infer the village is negotiating with the town in any way is wrong. That’s solely between the property owner and the town. I want that to be made clear.” He also said the village “has not been made privy to the appraisals.”

Having cleared the necessary environmental review in May, Greystone’s condo complex is entering the site plan review phase. During the May 23 planning board meeting, board chairman Gregory Ferraris called the parkland parcel “the elephant in the room.”

“We’re going to move forward with the site plan review, but knowing that’s going to be an issue, we’re only going to move to a certain extent without it,” Mr. Ferraris said.

Mr. Schneiderman said Wednesday that the waterfront parcel is a priority for the town.

“A lot of CPF revenue comes from Sag Harbor Village,” he said. “We have a lot of different priorities, but creating parks in downtowns is certainly one of them, and what makes this a particular priority is that the village has requested it.”