July 25, 2007
Sag Harbor Fights For Its Future
Tenants in Sag Harbor are on edge. As redevelopment plans lurch forward, business owners and residents feel Sag Harbor's unique charm and reputation for being local-friendly are at risk. Recent business proposals and unconfirmed rumors that franchises are looking for commercial space in the village reminds locals of what happened to East Hampton – a landscape that changed from community-owned storefronts to a slew of upscale chain stores.
Recently, CVS leased the Water Street Shops building, a 17,000 square foot space that currently houses a dozen or so tenants including 7-Eleven, Sing City and Water Street Wines & Spirits.
In response, the citizen group Tenants in Common, comprised of business owners and residents, recently held a community meeting attended by close to 150 people to air concerns and discuss ways to "Save Sag Harbor."
"I am asking everyone to write letters to the mayor and the village board of trustees and ask them to stop having big boxes in the village and stop using franchises, and to use their best efforts to protect the village," said Common member Mia Grosjean.
In addition to retail business proposals, the village has also received a number of condominium applications, including for the Harborview Professional Building at the foot of the bridge, the former nightclub Rocco's and the former Bulova building.
A six month moratorium on commercial development was imposed last month allowing the Sag Harbor Village Trustees to revise their zoning code, including setting maximum build out limits – though the Bulova and Harborview applications are exempt.
Attorney Fred Thiele, retained by the trustees, said the revision process, "in essence, [is] really about development standards and property standards for the village. The major concerns trustees have are issues with regard to infrastructure and the sewage treatment plant. It really is about how much development can the village take." Traffic and parking are also being examined.
Rumors that chain stores like Ralph Lauren, Liz Claiborne and Dunkin Donuts are looking to acquire property remain unconfirmed but have raised suspicions.
"I've heard lots of rumors," said Thiele. "CVS I had heard for a while and that turned out to be true . . . I think there is a legitimate concern in the village not to turn it into another yuppie stronghold. The thing that makes downtown Sag Harbor unique suddenly turns into any central business district."
Thiele confirmed the village trustees are intent on preserving the local character of the village.
"They're trying to protect and preserve the things that make Sag Harbor special as well as the more hard core infrastructure issues." Though there are limitations. "We regulate uses, not ownership. Most of what we can do in New York really is going to relate to size . . . I don't think we can go after franchises per se."
The belief that Sag Harbor's once stalwart attitude toward protecting mom and pop stores in the village is dwindling has been reinforced by recent purchases by real estate developer Donald Zucker. Under various corporate names, including Manhattan Skyline Management Corp. and Sag Harbor Poo, Zucker purchased the building housing Provisions, Whalers Cleaners, Vincenzo's Pizza and Ice Cream Co. as well as the building that is home to Bridgehampton National Bank and the Sag Harbor Youth Center. Zucker also owns the old Allen Schneider building at the top of Main Street.
Caesar Salsedo, owner of Whalers Cleaners, has 11 years left on his lease. He has been hoping he could turn the lease over to a new dry cleaner. But according to his attorney, Jim Henry, Zucker has prevented him from transferring the lease.
Henry also reported Zucker's purchase was "a way of avoiding capital gains tax by buying more properties. We're suffering from the fact that suddenly this guy has to acquire properties so that he could avoid paying capital gains tax somewhere else."
Julie Davenport, project director of the Youth Center, is also feeling Zucker's impact. The non-profit organization receives grants and does fundraising to stay afloat. In addition to having grants decreased this year, Davenport reported her rent also went up by $99 per month to more than $2000 a month for the 500 square foot space.
"Our lease expires in April 2008 and I don't know if we'll be able to renew," she said. "Can somebody just take over a town and turn it upside down and bring in large corporations?"
Ten years ago, prime real estate on Main Street cost about $30 per square foot. Today, the average cost is between $60 and $70 per square foot.
"They're going to price local people who've lived generation after generation right out of the village. That's what's so scary," said Davenport. "Are they trying to make it another East Hampton?"
When The Independent sought a response from Zucker, he declined to comment through a spokesperson.