Back in January 2022, long before Adam Potter proposed a huge mixed-use retail and affordable housing complex between Meadow and Bridge Streets in Sag Harbor Village, the village board passed a law seizing control of the possibility from the planning board. It took for itself the power to review what would be a "special exception use permit" on structures over 3,500 square feet in the newly created Waterfront Overlay Protection District.
On Tuesday, the village board took a first step in giving that authority back to the planning board.
"This is something I've had to reflect on over time, and I think this is appropriate, and I have the support of counsel, that the board of trustees should not be reviewing projects in the waterfront overlay district," said Mayor Thomas Gardella. "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," he added.
"Our job is to represent people. The boards apply the law independent of us," agreed Aidan Corish, a trustee. He also pointed out that as a review board, tasked with judging an application, the trustees would be constrained in their ability to talk with constituents about projects, "which sort of nullifies the whole reason people elected us."
Giving power over the waterfront district back to the planning board will on the one hand potentially de-politicize the review of large projects. On the other, it will put the planning board back on the hot seat just as Mr. Potter has announced new plans, though they have not yet been officially submitted.
"I support the incredible work by the trustees and am looking forward to starting the open review process," said Mr. Potter in a text, after seeing a draft of the reversal. He did not say when he would submit his new proposal.
"I can say we at the planning board have not been involved in this at all," said John Shaka, that board's chairman. "I do not know the motivation for this change at this time, but the planning board can certainly handle the work."
Single-family residential dwellings, accessory structures, and uses within the R-20 zoning district are exempt from special-permit review. But for other uses, such as mixed-use retail, housing complexes, or theaters, the planning board will decide whether they are consistent with the village's comprehensive plan and waterfront overlay protection district standards, and whether they might have an adverse impact on other properties and the community.
The village board will hold a public hearing to discuss the new law when it next meets, on Sept. 12.
In other waterfront overlay district news, Mayor Gardella said at Tuesday night's meeting that "we're still in the fight for the gas ball lot." On July 20, the State Public Service Commission awarded the lot, which contains nearly 100 parking spaces, to Mr. Potter's 11 Bridge Street L.L.C.
The mayor reported that the village has retained a lawyer, John Dax of Hodgson Russ L.L.P., to petition the P.S.C. for a re-hearing on the matter.
"Time is of the essence," said Mr. Corish. The board had only 30 days to decide whether to challenge the commission's decision.
The village has long deemed the lot an essential asset, given the lack of parking in the congested downtown area. Earlier in the meeting, Mayor Gardella floated the idea of hiring engineers to conduct a full-fledged traffic study. "We're supposed to have 11 traffic control officers, and we're down to only three," he observed. "We're getting overrun."
"I'm disappointed in the decision by the trustees to ask for a re-hearing," said Mr. Potter in a phone call. "However, I'm committed to working with the village to ensure that the parking lot remains open to the Sag Harbor community."
In unseemly news from the waterfront, the board voted to revoke the boat-berthing license agreement for a boat named Roamer, owned by Edward Meisner, after two Coast Guard officers witnessed Mr. Meisner pumping sewage overboard at Marine Park. They took pictures, and presented them to Harbormaster Robert Bori.
Mr. Bori, with letter in hand, inspected Roamer, and, flushing the toilet, watched as it discharged overboard. He then spoke with the Southampton Town pump-out boat operator, who told him that Roamer had not been using the pump-out service on a regular basis as it had in years past.
If Mr. Meisner doesn't remove his boat immediately, the village will tow and impound it.