Town Acquires ‘Steinbeck Park’ Waterfront Parcel from Developer Jay Bialsky

Topsoil, donated by Steve Mezynieski’s Southampton Excavation Co., being delivered on October 1, 2018 at 1,3,5 Ferry Road, which Southampton Town’s Community Preservation Fund bought for $10.5 million from developer Jay Bialsky on July 24. 2019. Peter Boody photo

In a pivotal step toward the creation of a new waterfront park in Sag Harbor, developer Jay Bialsky and the Town of Southampton’s Community Preservation Fund closed on the $10.5-million sale of his 1.25-acre parcel on the Sag Harbor waterfront — formerly known as 1,3,5 Ferry Road — to the town on Wednesday, July 24.

Attorney Lisa Kombrink, the town’s CPF program manager, confirmed that the sale was completed just before 12 noon on Wednesday at the town’s CPF office at 24 West Montauk Highway in Hampton Bays.

The village of Sag Harbor will manage the property as part of a proposed waterfront park under the terms of an intermunicipal agreement between the town and village. The agreement “is being worked on internally,” Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said on Monday. “It may be a few weeks before it is in place.” Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy confirmed on Tuesday that “the lawyers are working on it.”

The park, to be named for the late author and Sag Harbor resident John Steinbeck, may eventually link the Bialsky parcel — once the site of the Remkus fishing station and the John Ward professional building — with the soon-to-be-renovated Long Wharf and the green space on the other side of Lance Corporal Jordan A. Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge.

“I’m excited it’s finally coming to fruition,” Mr. Bialsky said two days before the closing, which came 14 months after he and the town had signed a sale contract on May 23, 2018.

Meanwhile, he has been waiting for the village to issue a building permit to begin construction of his proposed three-unit, 26,077-square-foot condominium project on his adjacent property at 2 West Water Street. After the Zoning Board of Appeals granted major variances for the project, the Sag Harbor Planning Board approved its site plan in March.

Village Building Inspector Thomas Preiato said on Monday he expected to issue the building permit this week.

The town required the 1,3,5 Ferry Road parcel to be cleared of all structures and for clean topsoil to be spread on the property. Both conditions were met last fall. A third condition was met in November when the village Planning Board approved a lot line modification for Mr. Bialsky’s adjacent properties to create two newly configured parcels, the 1.25-acre proposed park site formerly known as 1,3,5 Ferry Road and the condo site at 2 West Water Street.

The lot line changes more than doubled the 2 West Water Street site from 14,624 to 30,030 square feet. The property last contained a former motel that had been converted into condos and finally came the private residence of 1-800-LAWYER founder Bruce Davis, who died in 2018. Mr. Bialsky had the hulking white structure with cupola demolished a month ago.

For more than a decade, developers have been proposing luxury condominiums on the two adjacent properties. Led by former Sag Harbor Mayor Sandra Schroeder, the village began actively pursuing a purchase of the site, reaching an agreement with then-owner Greystone Development in 2016 to carve out the 1.25-acre parcel for a waterfront park to be laid out by landscape architect Edmund Hollander.

Disagreement over the site’s appraised value stalled a CPF purchase. But after Mr. Bialsky purchased the Ferry Road and West Water Street properties in 2018, proposing three condos on the West Water Street site — not the 13 Greystone Development had planned — he struck a deal for sale of the 1.25-acre parcel for preservation as open space. Mr. Bialsky said at the time that he, his wife and two daughters would live in one of the units full time and that a waterfront park would be an important benefit for the community and something his own family would enjoy.

“Economically, it made more sense to develop it, but from a community standpoint and from the standpoint that this will be my residence, I would rather see a park,” said Mr. Bialsky in an interview in May of 2018. “I didn’t ever think I was going to come in and not honor the vision for the park.”

“I look at this project almost like it is the community’s project too,” he said then. “I feel like it has just been sitting there for so long and it is an eyesore. I am looking to do something that is beautiful and special.”

After the park site was cleared last fall, Village Trustee James Larocca appeared before the village’s Harbor Committee to report on the project. “The openness of it is really what is so thrilling to me,” he said. “It’s almost as if it was arranged for the maximum number of good sunsets through the year.”

Of the overall park project, he said, “Our vision is for the park to be continuous from the wharf,” with a “wide passageway under the bridge” to the former Bialsky property. “We have the asset of [landscape architect] Ed Hollander,” a Sag Harbor homeowner “who is leading a team” designing the project, he said.

“Anybody with ideas, thank you, we will consider them. There’s no fixed plan yet for what should go in the park … that will be a completely open and transparent process,” Mr. Larocca added. “I can tell you this: the number of good ideas we’ve had from people in our community … we would need Central Park and half of Prospect Park to do everything.”