Dreams to Become Sag Harbor Reality

Sag Harbor’s already stunning waterfront will be even more beautiful once a deal is completed to expand public access west of the bridge to North Haven. This is something many people feared would never happen after a corporate development firm acquired about an acre and a half of derelict property there with the intention of building a 13-unit luxury condominium complex. In a 2015 artist’s rendering, massive structures, designed in  faux-Colonial style, virtually walled off the rest of the village from any view of Sag Harbor Cove and its spectacular sunsets.

Amid community opposition and threats from elected officials to condemn the site, the development firm unloaded it. The buyer, Jay Bialsky, had other ideas. He was more than eager to strike a major preservation deal with the village and Southampton Town, while planning three new townhouses on an already-built part of the property. 

And so, what seemed almost impossible a year ago appears to be becoming a reality. Using money from its community preservation fund, Southampton Town will pay the new owner $10.5 million for the portion of the property that will become public. Sag Harbor Village will manage the site, creating John Steinbeck Memorial Park, with walking paths, an outdoor performance space, and perhaps a pier and small beach. 

Much credit must be given to the Sag Harbor Partnership, which kept the pressure on officials to create a park there. That the group managed to do so while taking on the complicated work of rebuilding the Sag Harbor Cinema, and fund-raising for it, deserves note.

Almost forgotten now, Sag Harbor was among the first New York municipalities, more than 30 years ago, to complete a state local waterfront revitalization plan. The core idea was to protect existing recreational and commercial maritime activities and access along the shore, by public acquisition where possible. This deal is a reminder for other local governments: Seemingly far-fetched dreams can become a reality, with the public and the environment the big winners.