Trustee Says Steinbeck Park Is Not a Done Deal

Sag Harbor Village Trustee Jim Larocca speaking to the Harbor Committee on Monday night. Peter Boody photo

In the late morning of August 13, the old Remkus Fishing Station and former Sag Harbor Professional Building was demolished at the property most recently known as 1, 3 and 5 Ferry Road, a moment that residents in Sag Harbor Village and beyond viewed as a victory for the community and the beginning of the development of the John Steinbeck Waterfront Park.

While a lot of people viewed that moment as a groundbreaking on the park, said Sag Harbor Village Trustee Jim Larocca at Monday’s village Harbor Committee meeting, it was not. Mr. Larocca called it a “clearing” only, and said that a handful of steps still must be taken before Steinbeck Park becomes a reality.

Mr. Larocca led a campaign over several years, along with Mayor Sandra Schroeder and the nonprofit Sag Harbor Partnership, to persuade Southampton Town to purchase the parcel from new owner Jay Bialsky for $10.5 million earlier this summer. The purchase of the property, through the town’s Community Preservation Fund, has yet to be finalized as Mr. Bialsky works through the requirements laid out in his contract with the town.

The first requirement was the clearing of all buildings, which included digging out an old foundation. That has already been accomplished, said Mr. Larocca on Monday, and thanks to the donation of topsoil, soon the dirt surface of the property will become a grassy field.

“But that activity does not mean that we yet have the park,” said Mr. Larocca, noting Mr. Bialsky continues to own the property until the final execution of the contract between him and the Southampton Town CPF. A second term of the contract — documenting that the soil on the property meets environmental standards — is in progress, said Mr. Larocca. The last condition is for a lot line modification that must be completed by the Sag Harbor Village Planning Board.  Mr. Larocca deferred discussing that issue at length Monday night, saying it would be inappropriate because of the ongoing review of that independent board.

Responding to a question from Harbor Committee member John Parker, Mr. Larocca said, “There is no quid pro quo between the two properties and the village and Mr. Bialsky. Each of these processes has proceeded on their own tracks in parallel, roughly on the same sort of a schedule.” But he added “it’s not appropriate to say they are unrelated … That which makes Mr. Bialsky willing to do this has to do with what he can do on 2 West Water Street. But he has never, nor has his predecessor ever said the one turns on the other. So there is a relationship between the two. Anything more I can say about that would get me talking about the case, which as I’ve said is inappropriate.”

The Sag Harbor Planning Board has been reviewing that lot line modification in connection with Mr. Bialsky’s plan to build three condominiums at an adjacent property at 2 West Water Street. In late August, Mr. Bialsky postponed a public hearing before the planning board on his project through one of his attorneys, Tiffany Scarlato. Ms. Scarlato cited plans to revise the project after receiving feedback from the village’s zoning board of appeals, which met in August to discuss nine variances needed for the three-story, 27,740 square-foot building.

“The reason we postponed is because, until we have zoning board of appeals approval, none of the other boards can really act in a formal way,” she said on Tuesday, noting it appeared the planning board would look favorably on Mr. Bialsky’s application.

This week, new plans and a memorandum have been filed with the village’s building department. “The applicant has subsequently revised the building to further reduce the impact of the project,” reads the memorandum, prepared by the design firm VHB. The building gross floor area has been reduced to 26,077 square feet. Twelve parking spaces and six boat slips are proposed.

The firm notes that the previous owner of the property, Greystone Development, in 2017 proposed one contiguous building along West Water Street. The original Bialsky application provided a 9.5-foot breezeway through the building , which has been increased to 11 feet in the most recent modifications.

The memo also notes Greystone’s application was for a 36,564-square-foot building, so the current proposal represents a 28.7-percent decrease in overall square footage. It also notes that setback variances have also been reduced compared to the 2017 proposal.

Mr. Bialsky needs variances in order to have three stories, which Greystone also sought, and for the square footage of each unit, which is proposed at 9,264 square-feet, beyond what village code allows.

The memo asserts Mr. Bialsky can, as of right, reconstruct the existing building at 2 West Water Street — a former motel — at its current three-story height and with a total of eight residential units, each with 2,500 square feet of habitable space, and that, as of right, he could still develop 1, 3 and 5 Ferry Road with 40,000 square feet of commercial space in addition to seven new residential units.