The Village of Sag Harbor gets it. In a ceremony marking its new Steinbeck Park, Southampton Town and Sag Harbor elected officials celebrated the creation of a public waterfront asset. Officials in other towns and villages should be watching this closely. This park might never have been a reality had the village, over many years, failed to resist pressure from developers.
In the last iteration of plans for the property, a massive, wall-like row of luxury condominiums would have loomed over Sag Harbor Cove and presented an urban face for the village to anyone coming over the bridge from North Haven. Had the project come to fruition, it also would have added to the village’s already vexing traffic and parking problems. The additional wastewater to be handled by the village’s aging sewage treatment plant also would have been problematic. Instead, the park will be a green haven and, as James Larocca, a Sag Harbor Village Board member said, an engaging link to its maritime past.
With this addition, Sag Harbor’s public waterfront now extends, almost unbroken, from Bay Street to Long Wharf, with a modest beach at the windmill under the North Haven bridge.
In contrast to water bodies elsewhere, this swath of accessible waterfront should make officials, especially in East Hampton, envious. Other than a few public stretches, both Lake Montauk and Three Mile Harbor are essentially inaccessible. Over the years, planners have taken notice; the most recent professional hamlet studies have called for walking paths, small-boat launching ramps, and other links to allow residents and visitors more enjoyment of the waterfront.
Meanwhile, the imminent deal that will place the Gosman’s Dock complex on Lake Montauk in the hands of real estate developers could go either way. Will the town hang tough, as Sag Harbor did, or will it cave, losing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leverage the new owners’ dreams in order to gain additional community waterfront?
Immediately across the channel from Gosman’s, another key property is on the market, too — Inlet Seafood. Allowing this parcel to end up in private hands bent on maximizing profits would be a tragedy. We would instead expect proposals mirroring the sort that had been proposed for Sag Harbor. There are fewer major parcels in play at Three Mile Harbor, but officials need to think hard about the future there, too — and look past the current small-ball standoff over a proposed aquaculture and education station at Gann Road.
Elsewhere, Accabonac’s Louse Point has become extremely favored by swimmers and small-craft paddlers alike. The town trustees maintain kayak racks there that are generally full, and they have had to post signs warning against storing boats and boards in the beach grass. Looking long term, access to the other side of Accabonac on Gerard Drive will be threatened by sea level rise. Officials need to have a plan for that area as well.
Now is the time for the town, perhaps with county and state help, to do all it can to keep the public’s use and enjoyment of the waterfront front and center. As officials showed in Sag Harbor, it’s now or essentially never.