Environmentalists Find Fault in Sag Harbor Plan

The proposed site for Sag Harbor Village’s impound yard is currently being used as a temporary parking lot for PSEG trucks. Jamie Bufalino

Sag Harbor Village’s plan to use part of a 24-acre site off the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike as an impound yard for vehicles seized by its police department is receiving pushback from environmental and preservation groups, who say the proposal would endanger the nearby Long Pond Greenbelt, a unique ecosystem made up of coastal plain ponds. A public hearing will be held on the matter during a meeting of the Southampton Town Planning Board next Thursday. 

Elizabeth Vail, a lawyer representing Sag Harbor Village, appeared before the village planning board on April 26 to present the proposal, which entails paving an 80-by-60-foot area to create 20 parking spaces on an already-cleared portion of the site. For security purposes, a fence would be built around the lot and dark-sky-compliant lighting would be installed. Although Sag Harbor owns the land, it needs to receive zoning approval for the project from the town. 

The village currently keeps impounded cars in a yard at its Highway Department building. Space is running low in the yard, Ms. Vail said, because heavy equipment and E.M.T. vehicles are also stored there.

Ms. Vail was asked if there were any environmental concerns regarding the project. “Well, it’s already a disturbed site,” she replied.

For years, the village has used the parcel as a place to dump the leaves gathered during seasonal cleanups. It has also allowed the PSEG utility company to use the property as a temporary parking lot for its trucks, and Southampton Town leases another part of the land for its recycling center. 

After learning of the village’s plans for the impound yard, the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt advocacy group criticized the proposal in a May 3 letter to the public, pointing out that the property is surrounded by acreage that “Suffolk County, Southampton Town, and the Nature Conservancy have spent millions of dollars to preserve,” as protection for the greenbelt’s fragile ecosystem. The group also noted that the region is home to a breeding pond for the endangered eastern tiger salamander. “Frankly, we are shocked that anyone would consider anything other than preservation for this land,” they stated.

At a Sag Harbor Village Board meeting on May 8, a procession of people, including Dai Dayton, president of the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt, and Jayne Young, president of Save Sag Harbor, spoke out against the plan and in support of preserving the land. Mayor Sandra Schroeder and James Larocca, a trustee, were the only vocal defenders of the proposal, making a case that the impound yard would not be dissimilar to any previous uses of the site. 

Last week, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. weighed in on the debate, saying that although the state had no authority on the issue, he was opposed to “any expansion of current land uses or introduction of new land uses on the parcel beyond what already exists (recycling center/leaf composting).”

 The village has retained Nelson, Pope and Voorhis, an environmental planning firm, to conduct a study on the site. The firm intends to prepare an aerial map of the property, make an inventory of its current uses, and evaluate the “change in intensity” that an impound yard might exact on the property, based on such factors as the paving and other improvements, the length of construction time, and the hours and nature of use. 

Charles Voorhis, the firm’s managing partner, will attend next Thursday’s town planning board hearing.