Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman urged Sag Harbor Village Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy last Thursday to draw up a budget and timeline quickly for the development of the village’s proposed John Steinbeck Waterfront Park. “It would be nice if the village had some skin in the game in terms of capital, to make this move forward,” the supervisor said during a discussion of the project at a town board meeting.
Last July, the board voted unanimously to allot $10.5 million in community preservation money to purchase the 1.25 acres of property where the park will be built, and a few weeks ago the deal was finalized. An intermunicipal agreement between the town and the village that will define how the park will be developed and managed is still pending, but a ceremony marking the purchase will be held tomorrow at 10 a.m. at the foot of Sag Harbor’s Lance Cpl. Jordan C. Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge.
The current condition of the property is “clean and beautiful,” Mayor Mulcahy told the town board. The site had been blighted by abandoned structures, but Jay Bialsky, the real estate developer who sold it to the town, was required to clear it prior to the sale.
Ms. Mulcahy said the undeveloped park would be open to the public as of tomorrow. The village, she said, will let people use the space as they see fit for about a year, before any major construction begins. “We’ll have some fitness centers, and we have some park benches in there already,” she said. There are also picnic tables, and a split-rail fence has been installed along a portion of the perimeter.
At a village board meeting on July 24, conceptual plans for the park were revealed. As currently proposed, they include a dock from which small boats and kayaks could be launched into the bay, circuitous pathways as well as a boardwalk along the water, a birdwatching tower, an elevated grove for dining, and a beachfront amphitheater formed from the natural slope of land.
The mayor said the village will provide copies of the plans to the public during the annual Harborfest weekend in September. “We’ll let people have input,” she said.
At the Southampton Town Board meeting, she said the village has received $130,000 to date in private donations, which will be used to “keep the park beautiful as we think about what exactly it’s going to be.”
“Private contributions are helpful, but I’m concerned because I want to see it developed in a reasonable amount of time,” said Mr. Schneiderman. “I’ve seen capital campaigns go on for years. Montauk has been trying to build a community center there for, I think 14, 15 years now.”
“I do think it is going to happen fast,” said Ms. Mulcahy. “We’ve let that be an ugly eyesore for a really long time, and we don’t want that to happen.” Still, she said, she didn’t want to rush. “To try to force it and do it this fall and winter so that it’s open for next summer is wrong,” she said. She envisioned construction starting in fall 2020.
In February, after getting feedback from the public, Mayor Mulcahy said, the village will create a wish list for the park that will include prices and a timeline. “We’ll go out to see what grants and contributions are available, and at the same time we’ll do our village budget,” she said.
Ed Hollander, a prominent landscape architect whose firm developed the plans, showed the town board the drawings.
The park, he said, will be a “passive recreational” space, without ball fields or playground equipment. Rain gardens and drainage could easily be incorporated into the design, he said, and construction could be done in an environmentally friendly and cost-conscious manner.
“We hope to build a lot of this using recycled materials from other construction sites,” Mr. Hollander said. “I’ve spent 25 years out here tearing down perfectly good homes and beautiful landscapes, and instead of putting them in Dumpsters, we’ve had builders stockpiling bluestone and masonry that we can use.”
Mr. Hollander said his firm had consulted the State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Nature Conservancy, and Suffolk County officials during the development of the plans. “One of the things we really wanted to do was provide access to the waterfront, but also improve the ecology of Sag Harbor Cove and the water quality.”
Whether public bathrooms will be added to the park has yet to be decided, said Mr. Hollander, but a public sewer nearby would make the addition feasible. Local architects have agreed to donate their services to design a small building that could contain bathrooms, a park office, and a storage area, he said.
The only controversial element of Mr. Hollander’s plan was the birdwatching tower, which, as designed, would not be handicapped-accessible. The board encouraged him to either make it accessible to everyone or scrap it.
Over all, the board was wowed by the proposal. “I think this is an amazing plan for that property,” said Mr. Schneiderman. “This is a place I would love to bring my family.” He estimated the cost of construction at $3 million to $4 million. “That may take some time to do,” he said. “But I think you’re going to find great support from the community.”