The Sag Harbor Village Board did the right thing recently when it proposed handing back development oversight in the waterfront zone to the village planning board. This was to correct a misguided effort by the previously constituted village board to take control of at least one controversial project.
The issue goes back over a year, to when a development group proposed a giant retail complex on an often-flooded site more or less between the central Sag Harbor parking lot and the post office. The more- than 100,000-square-foot complex as initially described would also have included fixed-rent apartments, which the developer presented as “affordable.”
From early on, there was something funny about the relationship between the village board, especially former Mayor Jim Larocca, and the developer. Residents and Save Sag Harbor, a citizens group, sued in 2022, claiming that a village law that would allow high-density mixed-use construction was improperly vetted. Certainly, the optics were strange; the very same day the law had been passed, the developer announced plans for the giant project. Save Sag Harbor prevailed in its suit, and that law and another related one were annulled by the court and stricken from the code.
Along the way, the village board had taken away the review and permitting authority for this kind of project from the planning board. This was a highly unusual move and one that did not get enough attention. Elected boards, whether village or town, are there to listen to residents’ concerns and legislate, that is, approve the rules under which their community operates. Planning and zoning boards are there to interpret the laws.
From the start of the process, however, the mayor and other members of the village board were getting involved with the retail and housing plan. An unusual meeting was scheduled in July of last year at which Adam Potter, the face of the development group, told the board all about it. That alone should have been reason to take notice, but when one village trustee spoke about how to “streamline” the necessary hearings, alarm bells should have gone off. In our long experience with this kind of situation, when elected officials talk about streamlining new projects, what they really mean is getting them on a fast track to approval.
Thankfully, the village’s new mayor, Tom Gardella, hopes to put project review back in the hands of the planning board. Speaking recently, he said, “We need to empower our review boards to take on that task. They don’t need opinions from the mayor, or the trustees, on a certain application. . . . They’re independent boards, they form their own opinions; it needs to stay that way, without hearing from us.”
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.