There will be major turnover at the top of the Sag Harbor Village Building Department, where James Esposito, who was hired nearly six months ago as senior building inspector, was fired shortly before his provisional hiring became permanent. He will be replaced at the end of the month by Christopher Talbot, who holds a similar position with Southampton Village.
Until Mr. Talbot takes over, Peter Sarich, who led the village Building Department on an interim basis through 2020 and the first three months of this year, will return for several weeks.
The Village Board announced the changes at its Tuesday evening meeting, but did not discuss the reasons for Mr. Esposito’s termination.
Following the meeting, Mayor Jim Larocca said he would not discuss personnel matters, saying only that “not all appointments work out.”
Shortly after Mr. Esposito was hired last March, it became clear that many people in village government did not feel he was a good fit for Sag Harbor, with some saying he failed to appreciate the importance of protecting historic buildings as well as enforcing state building codes and that he had clashed with members of regulatory boards and the public.
Mr. Esposito could not be reached for comment for this article.
Mr. Talbot also could not be reached for comment for this edition, but he has found himself peripherally involved in a recent political battle over a development issue in Southampton Village.
A decision he made in January to issue two separate certificates of occupancy for adjoining properties on South Main Street in the heart of the village’s estate section that had been before the village Zoning Board of Appeals for months to determine whether or not they should have been considered a single lot drew fire from some ZBA members and was challenged by Trustee Joe McLoughlin, who took the unusual step of filing a formal appeal of that ruling.
Mr. Talbot stood by his decision, despite a rebuke from a 3-2 majority of the ZBA, who wrote Mr. Talbot stating that in their view the lots should have been treated as though they had merged.
When it later came to light that three ZBA members had sought out a trustee to appeal Mr. Talbot’s decision, the then-longest-serving ZBA member, Kevin Guidera, told the trio they should resign. They did not resign, but in July, Mayor Jesse Warren replaced Mr. Guidera on the ZBA after serving for 36 years.
Mayor Larocca also announced that last week the Suffolk County Planning Commission on August 4 had approved the village’s request to extend a moratorium on most waterfront development until March to give the board an opportunity to refine a proposed waterfront overlay district that would extend from the marinas at Water Street to the Sag Harbor Yacht Yard.
The overlay district was a centerpiece of the administration of former Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy. Mr. Larocca, who initially criticized the proposal as not far-reaching enough, has shifted from opposing the measure to saying it provides a good base from which to work.
Besides approving the moratorium extension, the board continued to accept comment on a hearing for the proposed waterfront overlay district, although it took no action on it.
Only one speaker, Peter Ginna, a member of the board of the civic organization Save Sag Harbor, spoke.
Reading from a letter signed by the group’s board, he urged the board to not “throw away the work already done by the waterfront committee” on the zoning revision, but to expand on it.
While he said Save Sag Harbor supports proposals to prohibit future residential development of the waterfront, the floodproofing of new commercial buildings, and a requirement for street-level windows on new buildings to provide a more inviting streetscape, he said the group was concerned about a third-story height bonus for developers who provide pedestrian access to the water and other public enhancements that has been included in drafts of the new code.
“We support improving pedestrian access to the water, but if we are to allow height bonuses on our waterfront, the village must subject those public benefits to close scrutiny and be sure they are not removed or degraded once their bargaining purpose has been served.”
He also questioned the extent of what should be considered a true public benefit, pointing out that the draft language considers “preservation and adaptive reuse of a historic building” to be a public benefit even though the village’s existing historic district requires that developers protect historic buildings.
The board also accepted the resignation of Planning Board member Jonas Hagen, who has moved out of the village.
With reporting by Brendan J. O’Reilly.