The three candidates for Sag Harbor Village trustee faced off Friday at a forum sponsored by the Express News Group, Save Sag Harbor, and the John Jermain Memorial Library.
The two incumbents, Aidan Corish, who is seeking his third term, and Bob Plumb, who is seeking a second term, outlined previous accomplishments, as well as goals they wanted to achieve in their next term, while newcomer Bayard Fenwick said he had been inspired to run largely because of what he said was the village’s slow response to problems he had experienced as a resident.
Mr. Corish, who works in environmental design and marketing, said this would be his final term and that he would like to shift his focus from the effort to expand the area served by the sewage treatment plant to improving water quality at Havens Beach, while maintaining oversight over the village’s grant writing, an effort, he said, that had helped the village obtain $2 million in grants with another $500,000 pending during his tenure. He said the village faced several costly projects, from the need for a new firehouse and ambulance barn to the sewage district expansion, a project he said he would like to have eligible for federal, state, and county funding by next year.
“This is a very pivotal time for Sag Harbor,” he said. “We are no doubt under siege by some very moneyed interests.” He said his four years on the board gave him “the knowledge, experience, and fortitude to help defend the village from this onslaught.”
Mr. Plumb, a retired custom home builder, said he ran two years ago with the goal of helping to preserve Sag Harbor’s historic heritage by supporting the efforts of the village’s regulatory boards as they attempt to process a heavy load of applications. He said he had done so, in part, by overseeing the creation of a comprehensive checklist for applicants to follow to prevent incomplete applications from reaching the board level, which he called “just a complete waste of time.”
He said his expertise in the construction trade had been an aid to the village’s attorneys when they defended the village against lawsuits or pursued violators and had helped in the effort to produce the waterfront overlay zoning district.
“I believe in holding the line on the recent onslaught of irresponsible building and increasingly aggressive legal tactics,” he said.
Mr. Plumb also paused to lament the sorry state of politics in the village. “This campaign is unlike any other that I’ve seen in Sag Harbor,” he said, “and it’s very discouraging to me.”
Mr. Fenwick, a real estate agent with Saunders & Associates, admitted he had not prepared opening comments for the forum, but paused to praise Mr. Corish’s introduction with a “right on, Aidan.”
“I’m not a politician. I’m just a citizen and volunteer,” he said, adding that he had decided to run because “I’ve experienced what I don’t think any village resident should ever experience,” citing old village drainage cisterns on his property that are quickly filled to overflowing from runoff from Jermain Avenue and an ongoing dispute with his neighbors at 200 Madison Street over code violations he said have gone unchecked by code enforcement. He said the village had been slow to respond to his concerns in both instances.
“I don’t believe under the current leadership that we have a mayor that is in a position to steward our village in the direction it needs to go,” he said.
The trustee candidates agreed that Bay Street Theater should be allowed to build on the Water Street Shops, but that its design must be overseen by the various regulatory boards.
“We need to be a village with a theater and not the opposite,” offered Mr. Corish.
“As far as the location goes, I think it’s wonderful,” he continued. “I think the theater can inform the park and the park can inform the theater. I think there’s a lot of opportunities there to have this sort of symbiotic relationship between the two.”
Mr. Plumb said the first design study unveiled in April “was a little over the top, maybe a lot over the top.” But he said if the village adopts the waterfront overlay zoning amendment, it will have tools to limit the size and impact of the theater on the waterfront. He stressed that the theater must come up with a parking plan as well.
Mr. Fenwick called the proposed site “a killer location,” but said he would like to see local architects weigh in on the design process because the initial “design just isn’t in keeping with our village.”
All candidates agreed that the Village Board’s role should be limited in dealing with proposals like Bay Street’s, with Mr. Plumb saying it should stay out of the design process altogether, while Mr. Corish said such major projects need to involve the community as early as possible in the process.
“I wouldn’t start at the end, and I think that’s what happened,” he said. The process would have been better served if the needs of the community and the theater were addressed first before deciding “what sort of box can we wrap this in?”
Mr. Fenwick once again sided with Mr. Corish. “Right on, like I really agree with Aidan,” he said. “I think this whole thing was done backwards.”
On the topic of the waterfront overlay district, Mr. Fenwick deferred, saying he had not studied the proposal, but would be a quick study if elected. Mr. Plumb noted that the moratorium was passed largely because of the alarm caused by the Bialsky condos on the waterfront. Under the current code, the Water Street Shops building could be replaced with a building 35 tall from property line to property line, he said. “That’s a bad outcome for everyone.” Under the new code, the size and scale of buildings would be reduced to provide more waterfront access.
The candidates agreed that the village needs to undertake a comprehensive traffic study if it wants to find solutions to the backlog of traffic entering the village, and they both agreed that parking will remain a thorny issue for years to come.
“I’m a fatalist when it comes to parking,” said Mr. Plumb, adding that there is only so much land available to that purpose. He said spreading parking around the village and promoting alternative transportation opportunities, such as the RoveLoop shuttle would provide some relief.
“I don’t believe we have a parking solution that can be enacted within the village,” said Mr. Corish. “The only real solution to parking is keeping cars out of the village and having peripheral parking with shuttle service.”
Although Mr. Corish and Mr. Plumb supported the paid parking pilot program currently being conducted on Long Wharf, Mr. Fenwick said he would prefer a comprehensive study to determine the best solution, whether it be a parking garage or some other approach.
Protecting water quality was a priority of all three candidates as well, with Mr. Corish saying water quality studies conducted by Dr. Chris Gobler’s Stony Brook University team have given the village important data to help it design solutions at Havens Beach, where heavy rainfall also raises the levels of contaminants at the bathing beach. Mr. Plumb agreed, saying that Suffolk County was slow to recognize the danger of nitrogen entering the water supply. Mr. Fenwick said he would support steps to reduce the amount of fertilization and prioritize the installation of modern wastewater treatment systems that remove nitrogen at houses near the waterfront.