Sag Harbor Revisits Impound Site

A 24-acre site off the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike

 A small procession of people, some wearing stickers that read “Protect the Long Pond Greenbelt,” voiced concern at a Sag Harbor Village Board public hearing on Tuesday evening about the board’s proposed use of a 24-acre site off the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike as an impound yard for vehicles seized by its Police Department. 

A site plan for the impound yard, which is in Southampton, had been approved by that town’s planning board on June 28. At the meeting, Elizabeth Vail, a lawyer representing Sag Harbor, said the village was only offering Southampton a chance to weigh in on the proposal as a courtesy.

“Technically, I don’t even think we had to submit to site plan review,” she said, citing a legal standard referred to as a Monroe test, which grants municipalities immunity from the zoning restrictions of an “encroaching governmental unit” when factors such as the public interest are at stake. “This is for an important police municipal need,” Ms. Vail said. “It’s going to benefit the health, safety, and welfare of Sag Harbor.” 

“We were alerted in advance that the village intended to use the Monroe test if we were not inclined to grant site plan approval or imposed conditions which they considered too onerous,” Dennis Finnerty, the chairman of the planning board, said via email this week. The planning board’s lawyer had determined that the village plan would meet the criteria of the Monroe test, Mr. Finnerty said, leaving his board with two options: approve the site plan and apply reasonable conditions or have the plan withdrawn, which would allow Sag Harbor to build the facility with no oversight by Southampton Town. 

“The lawyer threatened that from the very first time we met with her,” Dai Dayton, the president of the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt, said. “We met with her and the mayor at the beginning of this. We thought once we made it obvious to them that this was going to affect the Long Pond Greenbelt, of course they would try to find another place for the impound yard, but that has not happened.”

The village plan calls for paving an 80-by-60-foot area for 20 parking spaces on an already-cleared part of the site. The conditions added by the planning board include the installation of a six-foot fence, the designation of a village employee to check on whether any impounded vehicles are leaking fluids, the addition of a bioswale to contain runoff from the paved lot, and a prohibition against adding lighting without prior approval.

 The lot, the board said, must also have mountable curbs, so that the eastern tiger salamander, an endangered species, can navigate through the area. The location of the lot would put it far enough away from the nearest salamander breeding pond to comply with State Department of Environmental Conservation regulations. 

The village had previously used the parcel to dump leaves gathered during seasonal cleanups. It also has allowed PSEG, the utility, to use the property as temporary parking for trucks, and Southampton Town leases another part of the property for its recycling center. The impound yard, Ms. Vail noted, would take up just four-tenths of a percent of the 24-acre site.

Prior to the planning board meeting, the Southampton Town Conservation Board had registered its objection to the proposal. In a June 13 letter to Mr. Finnerty, Harry S. Ludlow, the chairman of the conservation board, listed reasons why the impound yard would “pose an array of threats” to environmental health and drinking water. 

The property lies within a “critical environmental area” over the sole-source aquifer, he pointed out. The Environmental Protection Agency defines a sole-source aquifer as one that provides at least 50 percent of the drinking water for its service area and for which there are “no reasonably available alternative drinking water sources should the aquifer become contaminated.”

Mr. Ludlow suggested that the village find a “less environmentally sensitive” location for its impound yard. Ms. Dayton echoed that sentiment. “You can find any place that’s already paved to put an impound yard,” she said. “But you’re never going to get another Long Pond Greenbelt.” 

Even after giving the site plan approval, Mr. Finnerty said that he believes that more investigation into a different location is warranted. In fact, he offered some suggestions, such as the light industrial areas off Route 114 or around East Hampton Airport.

Mr. Finnerty also recommended that an engaged group of citizens “bring pressure to bear on the village trustees” before construction of the facility begins. 

Ms. Dayton had attended the meeting armed with more than 500 petitions signed by opponents of the proposal, as well as a series of letters written by State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., and representatives of the Nature Conservancy, the Group for the East End, and the Southampton Trails Preservation Society, all of whom wrote in support of safeguarding the greenbelt. 

After hearing from the public, Aidan Corish, one of the village trustees, said that while the village has a legitimate need to find space for a new impound yard, he, too, was hoping an alternative could be found. “Right now we have a problem that we need to solve, but I’m not convinced the Long Pond Greenbelt is the solution,” he said.