Sag Housing Trust Wakes Up

    The Sag Harbor Community Housing Trust, a sort of think tank set up by Gregory Ferraris shortly after he left his post as the village mayor when plans for the Bulova Watchcase condominium development were still under review, has been reawakened after a five-year slumber and is looking for help, Mr. Ferraris told the village board on Tuesday.

    Mr. Ferraris established the not-for-profit trust to help the village figure out how to follow through on a deal the village struck to allow Cape Advisors, developers of the Bulova project, to pay a fee that will go toward affordable housing rather than setting aside 20 percent of its 65 units for that purpose, as mandated by the state. In lieu of the 13 affordable housing units it could have demanded from Cape Advisors, the village expects to receive just over $2.5 million, or $194,200 per unit.

    The lofts and bungalows at the former watchcase factory will reportedly have asking prices from just under $1 million to $2.7 million, penthouses will range from $3 million to $10.2 million, and three to six-bedroom townhouses will vary from $3.5 million to $6.5 million.

    Now that Cape Advisors has reignited the project after a four-year stall, the units have begun to be marketed, and money from the first closing could be received within the year. Mr. Ferraris, who now serves on the village planning board, approached the podium at Tuesday’s village board meeting to gain insight from the board on how to move forward.

    “It was controversial back then,” Mr. Ferraris said after the meeting, and it was discussed and debated at length in the community. A lot of people demanded on-site housing, he said, and “in the beginning I was one of them.” After researching comparable projects such as one in Nantucket, however, he said his feelings changed.

    “By and large the community felt it would be more flexible as a fee rather than to plan on-site housing,” Mr. Ferraris said. He negotiated a fee based on the state planning commission’s estimated median income for a family of four in Nassau and Suffolk County back in 2008, which was $97,000.

    Although the trust spent the time and money to do detailed research about the village’s housing needs five years ago, the demographics have changed since then, Mr. Ferraris said, and today’s workforce housing needs have to be re-evaluated. At the time, the group primarily interviewed younger individuals who rented and didn’t own their own homes.

    The trust initially included Denise Schoen, an attorney and Stacy Pennebaker, a realtor and long-time resident. Ms. Schoen since left the committee due to a conflict of interest. She is an attorney for the village’s zoning board of appeals. Mr. Ferraris is hoping that new people with some expertise and interest in helping provide workforce housing will step forward. He gave an example of a similar group, the Southampton Business Alliance, which he said works toward the same goals and has attracted quality professionals in construction, development, and the law.

    Fred W. Thiele Jr., the village’s attorney and also a state assemblyman, explained potential ways that the trust could move ahead. One option, recommended by Ed Deyermond, a former mayor and new trustee, would be changing the village code to make the not-for-profit trust the recipient of the fees in lieu of housing. The village could also implement its own affordable housing program or delegate that responsibility to another government such as the Town of East Hampton or Southampton. East Hampton Town has worked closely with a similar entity, the East Hampton Housing Authority, to provide affordable housing opportunities.

    A nonprofit might have more flexibility to give preference to assisting emergency personnel or teachers who have trouble obtaining mortgages, Mr. Ferraris explained. Money from the Bulova sales could be used as collateral or loan guarantees for those who have trouble getting mortgages. Other options would be to use the money to construct affordable housing or to provide financial assistance to local families to access the existing housing stock, he explained.

    Mayor Brian Gilbride agreed that the group should try to get “three or four more people involved in the next month or two.”