Still No Progress on Steinbeck Park Purchase

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

By Stephen J. Kotz

The effort to have Southampton Town use the Community Preservation Fund to purchase a 1.25-acre parcel to be turned into the John Steinbeck Waterfront Park remains at a standstill.

This week, Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said the town has yet to order a new appraisal of the property, pending a resolution of a debate over its value.

At issue, he said, was the State Environmental Quality Review Act findings completed by the village as part of its planning board review of Greystone Development’s Partners’ plan to convert the former 1-800-LAWYERS building into a 13-unit condominium while ceding ownership of the former 1,3,5 Ferry Road property to the village.

“It comes down to what the village tells us is the development potential,” Mr. Schneiderman said, adding that the town’s CPF manager, Mary Wilson, who is an attorney, had advised the town board that the property has effectively been rendered unbuildable because a condition of the approval for the condos is that the remaining land will be used for a park.

“There will be a park parcel created,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “Then how does that have value as a developable parcel? That’s a problem.”

Ms. Wilson could not be reached for comment this week, but Sag Harbor Village Trustee James Larocca said on Tuesday that the village is frustrated with the town’s slow pace of negotiating with Greystone Development.

Under former Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, Southampton Town initially undertook an appraisal of the property, but after Mr. Schneiderman took office in 2016, he requested an updated appraisal, Mr. Larocca said.

At that time, the town determined that the village had transferred development rights from the Ferry Road parcel to the West Water Street parcel, even though there is no mechanism in place for the village to do that, Mr. Larocca said. Greystone then rejected a new, lower offer based on the updated appraisal, he said.

“It was our view that that round of appraisals was flawed by misapplication or misunderstanding of village law,” said Mr. Larocca.

Mr. Larocca said it was his understanding that the village had clarified that issue with the town earlier this summer and was expecting to order new appraisals.

But Mr. Schneiderman said the town was still waiting for the village and suggested it may have to ask Greystone to withdraw its current application and “start with a blank slate” that would not limit use of the parcel being eyed for the park.

He rejected suggestions that the town did not want to spend CPF money on a village purchase. “I’d love to see the park. We have the funds available,” he said. “In fact, I suggested buying the whole thing.”

On Tuesday, Karen Marotta, a spokesman for Greystone Development, said via email, “We are working with the village to come to a resolution and absolutely support the idea of a park if it can happen.”