Save Sag Harbor

“Not so fast!”

Sag Harbor officials are moving ahead with new, tough rules to regulate the size of houses in reaction to a spate of super-sizing, which has left many aghast over changes to their beloved village. The changes are overdue and should, perhaps, be made even tougher.

Unlike several neighboring municipalities, Sag Harbor’s zoning code has been downright generous when it came to residential construction. This has allowed some speculative builders and well-heeled property owners to radically change several streetscapes. Profit is usually the motive for bloated fancifying; the more bedrooms and amenities, the more dollars a developer can make and the higher the market value. But an individual’s bank account should not be the basis of community planning. A new crop of officials is proving willing to act in the broader interest of preserving the village’s unique sense of place by saying, “Not so fast!”

The new rules, made public only recently, would tie the floor area of a new or renovated house directly to the size of its lot. This would be an extension of the existing zoning code, under which construction has been significantly less constrained. Even so, the proposals would allow more house, inch-for-inch, than is permissible in several nearby villages. Maybe this is fair, considering that Sag Harbor has a somewhat more urban feel than, say, North Haven, but, frankly, we don’t see any obvious justification.

Well-intentioned, but perhaps more trouble than it is worth, would be a separate fee on building permits for houses greater than 3,000 square feet. Money from the fee would be earmarked for affordable housing. Given that the hurdles for lower-priced housing within the Sag Harbor School District are likely to remain high, it is probable that little of the money would ever be used for its stated purpose, instead accumulating, like other towns’ and villages’ parking charges, in an untapped fund.

Worse, perhaps, is that the feel-good fee could, in the wrong hands, be misapplied later on to help squeeze questionably large house plans past future, more development-friendly zoning and architectural review boards. We would love to be proven wrong, but given the laughable record of Sag Harbor’s only to-date affordable housing initiative — buying an existing laborers’ camp outside village limits — skepticism is warranted.

That said, Sag Harbor officials should be supported for being on the right track in general. They should think about decoupling house sizes from the dubious fee and move ahead with overall limits, perhaps even making them more restrictive.