Waterfront Zoning Plan Advances In Sag Harbor

Sag Harbor Village waterfront. STEPHEN J. KOTZ

The Sag Harbor Village Board’s proposal to create a Waterfront Overlay District that is designed to reduce potential density and preserve access along a stretch of waterfront properties, while encouraging development that would reflect the village’s existing scale and character, is slowly winding its way toward a public hearing.

The Village Board, which held two question-and-answer sessions on the plan over the past two weeks, discussed it again on Tuesday, May 11, but this time with a graphic presentation from architect Randy Croxton, a board member of Save Sag Harbor. That presentation showed what the impact of maximum buildout would be under current zoning, under the restrictions imposed by the new overlay district, and when special height bonuses are allowed in the new zoning code for developers who provide public views or access of the water.

Mr. Croxton’s presentation, which was underwritten by Save Sag Harbor, sought to show the volume of construction that could occupy a single property, not detailed renderings of what is there now or could be there. It seemed to assuage some in the audience, who have asked for more visual comparisons from the team of planners who have been working on the project since last August.

Using aerial and street level views, Mr. Croxton was able to show how current zoning could lead to what would essentially be a walled-off waterfront, whereas the new code would provide numerous breaks that would retain views and the potential for pedestrian access to the waterfront. He described that potential for preserved views as a potential “200-to-300-year gift” to the village.

Kathryn Eiseman, of the village’s planning consultants, Nelson, Pope & Voorhis, said her team could add a number of  requested changes made by the board to the draft of a local law that could be presented to the board at its next meeting, a work session scheduled for May 26, with an initial public hearing set as early as June 8. Because of procedural requirements, the board would have to continue the hearing to at least its July 13 meeting before scheduling a vote.

The zoning revision covers an area from Cove West Marina on the west to the Sag Harbor Yacht Yard to the east and both sides of Bay Street and Long Island Avenue. The boundary extends south to encompass a portion of properties in the Office District bounded by Meadow, Rose and Bridge streets.

There two main elements to the proposed law, size limits and projected changes to use tables.

The code would limit most buildings along the waterfront to two stories or 25 feet tall, although a developer could get approval to add a third story and raise the building to a height of 35 feet, with the third floor required to be set back at least 10 feet, provided certain amenities were provided to the public, most involving preserved views and access to the water. That portion of the law would also require expanded side-yard setbacks to maintain access to the waterfront.

While that provision seems to have gained support, another one that would allow a number of new uses in the Office District has been opposed by many, who say it will lead to increased development, which would compete with existing businesses, put more strain on limited parking options, and do little to address environmental concerns related to groundwater protection and the threat of flooding in the face of climate change.

Speaking at Monday’s session, Trustee Thomas Gardella counted 27 new uses he said that would be permitted or allowed with a special exception permit. “That to me is a big difference,” he said.

But Valerie Monastera, a planner with Nelson, Pope & Voorhis, said that there are currently an unusually broad array of specific retail uses, from glass wear shop to wallpaper store, listed in the code, that would normally be listed simply as retail in most codes, so even though the number of uses had been expanded, the potential for new development would not be that much greater.

Resident Kathryn Levy also weighed in at Monday’s session, urging the board to extend its moratorium, which currently expires in August. She said it was disturbing the committee proposing the code changes did not include a single environmentalist, who could weigh in on the risk of waterfront development in the face of climate change and rising sea levels. And she urged the board to hold additional meetings to allow more public input on the plan. She also requested that the board pledge to not vote on the matter until after the June 15 election, a request that Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy said would be easy to meet because the law would not be ready for passage by that time.

Trustee James Larocca, who announced last week that he would run against Ms. Mulcahy in next month’s election, said he would no longer take part in discussions of the code change until after the vote. Nonetheless, he requested that the proposed law be amended to give the Village Board the final say over whether any building in the village larger than 4,000 square feet, residential or commercial, is approved.

That proposal brought immediate pushback from Ms. Mulcahy’s allies on the board, Trustees Bob Plumb and Aidan Corish.

Pointing out that the village’s regulatory boards are all-volunteer, Mr. Plumb said he thought stripping them of authority would have a harmful impact on morale and whether residents would want to continue serving.

Mr. Corish also questioned the wisdom of removing that authority from the regulatory boards, whose members, he said, are typically chosen for their roles because they have some level of expertise in the topics their boards cover. On the other hand, the Village Board election “is a beauty contest every two years,” he said, and those who win “get the keys to the car whether they know how to drive or not.” He said the Village Board would be more susceptible to political pressure and that having to add such applications to the monthly agenda would bog down an already heavy agenda.

Mayor Mulcahy said she preferred that any such change be considered separately from the waterfront zoning proposal.