Sag Harbor Board Takes on Blocked Sidewalks

Sag Harbor is proposing steeper permit fees for construction projects and any other impediments to sidewalks and parking spaces. Durell Godfrey

A proposal to increase the permit fee for scaffolding and other sidewalk encumbrances and instituting a new fee for Dumpsters, construction vehicles, and any other obstructions in parking spaces triggered an outcry from business owners at the Sag Harbor Village Board meeting on March 14. 

The current village code requires that anyone needing to temporarily block a sidewalk apply for a $25 permit. The village is seeking to increase that fee to $75 per day and expand the code to include parking spaces as well. One of the main problems with the current code, said Beth Kamper, the village clerk-administrator, is that “it isn’t really enforceable because there’s no time frame in the law.” Thus, a months-long construction project could incur just the initial fee of $25. 

Ms. Kamper also noted that the village, which is analyzing its fee structure in comparison to what other East End municipalities charge, has not increased the encumbrance fee in 30 years.

At the board meeting, Alicia Farnam, a member of the Schiavoni family, which owns the I.G.A. grocery store on Main Street, spoke out against what she deemed an egregious increase in the fee. “It doesn’t matter to me that you didn’t do this 30 years ago,” she said. Schiavoni’s Market is in the midst of an unexpectedly extended construction project. “Initially, we were just going to have the stucco replaced, but we ran into structural problems and had to hire an engineer to make sure the building was properly stabilized,” said Ms. Farnam this week. Ms. Farnam said that the business paid for an encumbrance permit and has been renewing it monthly. The work on the building has necessitated the presence of scaffolding on its facade and a Dumpster in a parking spot, over a period of some seven months. “I understand the need to raise fees, but $75 a day is a lot. You’re making up for lost time overnight? That’s just unfair.”

Lisa Field, the president of the village’s Chamber of Commerce and the owner of the Sag Harbor Variety store, expressed concern to the board about the effect the fee increase might have on Harborfest, the Chamber’s popular fair and sidewalk sale, held each September. “Our immediate response was, how was this going to affect our use of Long Wharf?” said Ms. Field, referring to the site occupied by most of Harborfest’s booths. “Taking over roughly 90 parking spots over two days would be cost prohibitive.” 

Ms. Field said that the village trustees had assured her that they valued Harborfest and would not let the change in code prevent the event from taking place. Speaking as a business owner, Ms. Field said, she could see both sides of the encumbrance fee issue. “The costs could really add up,” she admitted, but she also thought the change might motivate shopkeepers and landlords to expedite their construction projects, freeing up parking spaces that have been commandeered of late by construction vehicles. “We have had an unprecedented amount of construction going on in the village over the last couple of months. I want to keep Main Street as Main Street and not as a parking lot.”