Sag Harbor to Pick Two of Three

Incumbent, two newcomers vie for spot on village board; mayor unopposed
H. Aidan Corish , Thomas Gardella, Ken O’Donnell Taylor K. Vecsey Photos

Voters in Sag Harbor Village will have some decisions to make on Tuesday, but choosing a mayor is not one of them. While Mayor Sandra Schroeder is running unopposed, three candidates are vying for two open seats on the village board.

Ken O’Donnell, the incumbent, his running mate, Thomas Gardella, and H. Aidan Corish gathered at the John Jermain Memorial Library on Saturday for a friendly debate moderated by Stephen J. Kotz, the Sag Harbor Express news editor.

The candidates’ views on the importance of supporting affordable housing efforts, the rebuilding of the Sag Harbor Cinema, extending the historic district to include the Sag Harbor Hills, Ninevah, and Azurest neighborhoods, and improving traffic and pedestrian safety did not differ much. Their backgrounds and their focuses, however, did.

This is the first foray into politics for Mr. Gardella, who owns a plumbing business and has lived in the village for 30 years, and for Mr. Corish, the founder of Tangram, a brand design firm.

Mr. Corish, a village homeowner since 1995, said he would bring a new perspective to the village board. He considers himself a preservationist, and said he believes in preservation, communication, participation, and planning.  

Meanwhile, Mr. Gardella just finished serving as the chief of the Sag Harbor Fire Department. He has been a volunteer for over 20 years. “It didn’t get any more real for me than it did on Dec. 16 with that fire on Main Street,” he said. “I would like to serve further as a trustee of this village.”

Mr. O’Donnell, who owns La Superica restaurant, has served on the board for the last four years and is seeking is second term. He said he recently found a flier from his campaign in 2013 and was reminded that many of the issues he sought to tackle had been addresssed. The Civil Service Employees Association and Sag Harbor Village Police Benevolence Association contracts were resolved — the latter twice, and it is good through 2021. The C.S.E.A., he said, agreed to change health care providers, resulting in significant savings for the village. Among his strengths, he said, “I like to think I’m more of a businessman than a politician.”

Parking, always at a premium in the small village, was a focus for the candidates. Asked if they support a traffic study, especially because of the lack of parking provided by the Sag Harbor School District, Mr. Gardella said he supports any study as long as the village can afford it.

Mr. O’Donnell said he is dedicated to keeping an open dialogue between the village and the school district — the board was recently criticized for its decision to prohibit parking on streets around the schools. A meeting with all the stakeholders is slated for next Thursday. “Win, lose, or draw, I’ll be there.” He pointed out that the school district has a much larger budget than the village.

Mr. Corish said a lot of people were “blindsided” when the board decided after a public hearing to prohibit parking around the school. He has some ideas that would offer the village an alternative source of revenue. “I have no problem with charges for parking in the village,” he said, adding that it would be in a parking lot, not on Main Street. He would like to explore the use of parking apps, such as ones used in Oyster Bay and White Plains.

Mr. Gardella said he was against a paid parking system. He wants to focus on looking at where new spots can be added. 

The three candidates said they believe the restrictions placed on residential floor area — legislation passed last year which yielded several lawsuits — were a step in the right direction. Mr. O’Donnell said it would help put a stop to “oversized boxes being dropped on village lots,” but admitted the legislation is a work in progress. “By no means do I think it’s a perfect document.”

Mr. Corish said he supported where the law ended up. “The process left a lot to be desired,” he said. One of the byproducts of the legislation, however, is a plethora of what he called the “Greek Revival revival” houses. “I don’t think that was the intention,” he said, adding that the boards need to communicate more so that the streetscapes are varied.

As someone who renovated a historic house from the ground up, he thinks it would be useful for the village to provide a small pamphlet that real estate brokers can give clients about what to expect during the building process to manage homeowners’ expectations and also reduce “friction between future community members and our boards.”

Mr. Gardella agreed. “Communication is key,” but he said every lot and every house is different. “One pamphlet won’t cover everything.”

Mr. O’Donnell suggested that homeowners be provided with a historic pallet so that certain processes, which may end up taking time before the architectural review board, can be expedited.

One thing everyone agreed on was supporting a ballot measure to increase a pension-like incentive for fire department volunteers. A length of service award program, the state-approved benefit program known as LOSAP, allows volunteers to receive a financial incentive based on the number of years they have served once they hit retirement age.

Under the proposal, volunteers would increase the amount they receive at age  65 by $10 to $30 per month for each year of service credit earned under the point system. It will cost an additional $86,000 a year to fund the amendment, an average cost of $521 per firefighter. The change would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

While funding comes from the village budget, the village also receives money from the Towns of East Hampton and Southampton, as well as North Haven Village, as it is contracted with those municipalities to provide fire and ambulance services to those areas outside the village.