Sag Harbor Okays Walk-On Ferries

Jitney’s passenger dock plan sails ever closer to approval at packed hearing
Anton Hagen and Brendan Skislock sat on the floor near Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr.
Anton Hagen and Brendan Skislock sat on the floor near Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., and the board members Bruce Stafford and Edward Gregory at Tuesday’s hearing on a law that would allow ferries to dock in the village. Carrie Ann Salvi

    Despite voices of fear and opposition, Mayor Brian Gilbride and the members of the Sag Harbor Village Board except Timothy Culver voted Tuesday night to allow ferries in the village, amending an existing law that prohibits them. While it is possible that the proposed plan could be put in action in time for the season, several more legal hurdles remain to be cleared.
    Pierce Hance, a former village mayor who has been a leading critic of the move, said at the public hearing before the vote that ferries were one of only three uses precluded by the village code, a decision made in 2008. He said the project was “not well planned,” and that the chamber of commerce, which met last week, did not view it positively.
    Jennifer Houser, a resident and a former trustee, said the reason there is no ferry landing in East Hampton, Montauk, or Springs is that “they don’t want it,” and “Sag Harbor doesn’t want it either.” Day-trippers, she said, were more likely to buy ice cream cones than to spend money in upscale boutiques. She asked why there was no review process in place, and suggested that people from Moriches and Shirley might come to Sag Harbor, park, and use the ferry as a jumping-off point on the way to the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut.
    State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who is also the Sag Harbor Village attorney, ran down some provisions of the temporary permit later that evening. It specifies, he said, that an application must be made for land use and the use of Long Wharf, which would require another hearing before approval. The village could impose a landing fee, along with “reasonable conditions,” at that time, said Mr. Thiele. The local Water Revitalization Plan and the State Environmental Quality Review Act will also apply, he said.
    Mr. Gilbride said that during an unspecified trial period the village would be in close touch with the chief of police, foot patrol officers, the dockmaster, and planning board members for input and recommendations. The Zoning Board of Appeals might also designate a watchdog committee, the mayor suggested.
    Some speakers were worried about children who swim, sail, and kayak in village waters. Parking was also a worry, amid concerns that people will no longer shop in the village if traffic, already bad, gets any worse.
    Ann Lieber, an administrator at the Custom House, shook her head at the opposing voices. “We used to have a ferry, they used to come to the Custom House,” she said. “I think the ferry would support the stores and restaurants, and historic places, such as the Whaling Museum. It’s only for the summer that we’re trying it. Why not give it a shot?”
    “They can’t park on Main Street, it’s only two-hour parking,” said Ms. Lieber. “And the North Fork people will not have their cars either.”
    “I have lived here for 10 years, and have always had a problem parking here for 10 years,” said Bob Fitzsimons. He said there was nothing to fear but fear itself, and that water travel was forward thinking. “It’s a passenger ferry,” he said. “I think it’s a good idea to try it.” He suggested creating a slush fund in case of spilled gas or other disaster.
    Bruce Stafford, a board member, agreed. “It’s a waterfront village, there is never any parking, and I don’t think its going to be any worse,” he said. “I think it’s worth a try. We can always pull the plug on it. I would go to Greenport with my family.”
    Kate Plumb, an astrologer, told the gathering that she had done Sag Harbor’s astrological chart and it is an Aries village. “We have to take on our identity as a pioneer, and do something different,” she said, explaining that the sign of Aries is known for innovation and enterprise.
    Edward Gregory, a longtime board member, said the ferry opponents reminded him of when “7-Eleven was going to end our world in the village, and then we allowed it . . . 7-Eleven is quite a good neighbor.” He said that while it was “always easier to say no to something, after a lot of thought I would like to at least try it.”
    Jeff Lynch, the president of Hampton Jitney, who will head the proposed venture, spoke of it briefly and softly, stating that many pubic transportation advocates and studies support it. He thanked the board for its consideration.    At decision time, Robbie Stein, a board member, said using waterways as transportation was something to be considered, although “we do not know how it will affect business or traffic. I do want more answers from the Jitney, but right now I do want to give it a chance.”
    Mr. Culver, the lone naysayer on the board, said many of his High Street and Bay Street neighbors had called him, all of them expressing opposition. “I am going to vote against it,” he said, but “I do compliment the village for looking at a creative solution.”
    “We still have a lot of hurdles,” Mr. Lynch said yesterday. “It is unclear if we can clear them all before a summer launch.” He will soon submit a formal application, spelling out support and ground transportation plans, to both Sag Harbor and Greenport. “They will give us the path to follow,” he said. “The bottom line, I have said a few times, is, if we feel it will not work effectively, then we will kill it ourselves.” 
     Greenport is to hold its public hearing tonight at 6.


Comments

What are they thinking?? The Mayor and Trustees have not let us in on this secret, other than to say they think we should say yes for a change and "just try it". There must be a money trail..... What are the positive possibilities? I do know two people who work in Sag Harbor who would be able to commute by ferry, but of the other 50 or so people I have spoken to about the Ferry, only three or four have been for it.
Quite frankly - the residents of Greenport are fearful to open up the floodgates to the denizens of Sag Harbor. With such service - we shall see an increase in violent crime, litter - and it will no longer be possible to purchase a pink polo shirt at a reasonable price.
It is a major step in the right direction, to get people out of their cars and into public type transportation alternatives. This creates a path of travel to the north fork instead of an extensive bus ride. We must seek more public transit alternatives for the future.