Wetlands Freeze Considered

Village sees loopholes, reshuffles committee

While Sag Harbor Village officials mull a moratorium on reviews and approval of wetlands variances, the mayor is overhauling the very committee that considers them.

In response to substantial development and redevelopment, at a meeting on Tuesday the village board introduced a law that would halt consideration of wetlands permits on single-family house lots for 180 days while the trustees take a look at existing laws. As planned, the law would not stymie applications for commercial properties.

“Homes are being sold and then it’s either an enormous renovation or knock the house down and get a much larger house — and a pool. There are places out on the bluff where they want to be right on the bluff. We have to put the brakes on and catch our breath,” Mayor Brian Gilbride said at the meeting. Applications already filed and under consideration will not be subject to the moratorium. A public hearing will be held on Sept. 6.

The temporary prohibition was first discussed by the harbor committee, though Mayor Gilbride said the requesthad come from Denise Schoen, the committee’s attorney,  and Rich Warren, a planning consultant. Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., the village attorney, said some procedures needed to be examined.

“The process is kind of convoluted and it has resulted, perhaps, in the granting of substantial variances that may be more than what was anticipated or perceived should be when the code was written,” he said. Some property owners, “are maxing out on their lots and getting very, very close to wetlands . . . at a time when water quality is on the front burner everywhere on Long Island,” Mr. Gilbride said.

Bruce Tait, who was the committee chairman until Tuesday night when he was replaced by Stephen L. Clarke, said he supported — and had asked for — the moratorium so that attorneys can look at the language in the code that has allowed loopholes, although he declined to provide examples. He said setbacks and setback relief need better definition in the code, particularly for smaller lots. “There are so many holes in them we are getting beat up,” he said, referring to applicants’ attorneys. 

While Mayor Gilbride agreed that the village needed to look at its wetlands law, he said that he had decided to replace Mr. Tait as head of the harbor committee. He was, however, willing to keep Mr. Tait and Jeffrey Peters, another member, on the committee as “holdovers.”

Village board members would have to ratify any appointment to replace the men on the committee, but they have no authority about who serves as its leader.

The mayor said he had acted because he thought the committee should be “a little less political.”

Mr. Tait has stepped up to the podium at village board meetings on several occasions, including during Tuesday’s  meeting, to remind the village board of certain rules and procedures he believes it should  follow. The mayor believes that Mr. Tait has been combative. “It got to the point where it was like the harbor committee was above the village board and that whole mind set had to stop.”

Meanwhile, the board unanimously approved Mayor Gilbride’s other appointments to the harbor committee. Mr. Clarke was reappointed to a three-year term, and John Shaka, who ran unsuccessfully in June for a seat on the village board, was appointed to replace John Christopher. Sandra Schroeder, who was recently elected to the village board, said she had asked that Mr. Shaka, one of her opponents in June, be appointed to the committee because she was so impressed with him. Joseph Tremblay was appointed as an alternate.

The mayor said he was well aware that some think removing Mr. Tait as chairman was payback for his having challenged the mayor for his seat in 2013, along with Ms. Schroeder. But, the mayor said, he had reappointed Mr. Tait to the committee immediately after the election.

Mr. Tait said he had been prepared to be axed from the committee.

As for the new members, Mr. Tait said they are good choices, adding that he had tapped Mr. Tremblay, whom he said has a great deal of knowledge of oyster beds, when the committee was looking for an alternate.