Steinbeck Park Underway: We Have Someone to Thank for Making It Happen

John Steinbeck Waterfront Park plan for Sag Harbor
John Steinbeck Waterfront Park plan for Sag Harbor, Courtesy Edmund Hollander

The John Steinbeck Waterfront Park in Sag Harbor is now well underway. They tore the two derelict buildings down on the property last week, and with the underbrush cleared away you can see all the way across the lawn from Long Wharf to the arc of the little beach and the sun setting over the boats beyond at sunset. From Long Wharf, the stretch of downtown is now a delight of visible open-space beachfront as never before.

All of this is due to the financial astuteness of developer Jay Bialsky, who stepped into the picture this past year with a brilliant plan to end a real estate logjam that threatened to go on for years and years without resolution.

The logjam was the result of multiple owners having small parcels of the property, each of whom had to be persuaded about what to do next. Originally, one group wanted to develop one third of the property with 13 condominiums, and in exchange for this they would give the other two thirds to the Village for its park. The problem was the two sides couldn’t get their act together as far as price went. One issue was that to release the funds needed, whatever it might have been, would involve getting an appraisal that would not result in the town overpaying.

An interesting part of this story is the fact that a small unused and crumbling road went through the property to dead-end on the shore there. Because the Town already owned this small stretch, the developers couldn’t go ahead unless this crumbling road was thrown into the mix to make it happen.

Bialsky’s solution to the stalled negotiations was simple. He waded in and took over the developers’ side of the project. Bialsky went back to the town and the Village and said he would reduce the number of condominiums to just three. He also got a new appraisal, Bialsky’s lawyer told me.

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Because of much higher recent sales in Sag Harbor not considered during the Town’s earlier appraisal—a three-quarter-acre building site on Glover Street had gone for $10.5 million, for example—the lawyer said an appraiser gave an estimate for this parcel, a waterfront parcel, at $15 million, and the town then agreed at $10.5 million to make the deal.

The Village of Sag Harbor and the Town of Southampton look upon him as a man who came in and saved the day. Bialsky has every reason to consider he has done that.

Part of the deal is that Bialsky would pay to have the two derelict buildings on the property torn down, he would pay for the foliage to be removed, and he would pay to tear up the concrete of the unused road that went through the property. (That was his money that did that.) Furthermore, he agreed that the approvals or denials he might get for the creation of his three condominium units would not interfere with the creation of the park. Once it was all signed, and it was signed, the park could proceed, and all that remained was to hear what Bialsky had in mind for his three condominiums.

That proposal became public last month. When you think of a condo, you usually think of something that might be 700 or 800 square feet. Mr. Bialsky is proposing that each of the three condominiums be 10,224 square feet, 8,750 square feet and 8,766 square feet in a building that is 46 feet tall and in total 27,000 square feet. This is only slightly smaller than the size the earlier group had wanted to have for its 13 condos.

To give you an idea of the size, look at King Kullen in Bridgehampton. Bialsky’s building would be about half that King Kullen. It would barely fit on his sliver of the property. It would rise up 11 feet higher than the legal limit. It would be the tallest building in town, and it would set a precedent for an upcoming proposal across the street for that height, if approved. The Bialsky project would require a reported nine zoning variances.

The Village Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review, which is to decide upon this, is stuck with very mixed emotions. “We are very grateful for what Mr. Bialsky did,” one of them said. “But this can’t be a quid quo pro,” said another.

No, it can’t. And it won’t be. In some regard, it’s a bit like a concerned citizen running into a burning building and saving the lives of the three people living there by carrying them out on his shoulders.

And then submitting a bill.

What to do?

Perhaps Mr. Bialsky is of the opinion that if you start by asking something that is a lot, it can be whittled down by a committee and still be something that is a lot, but less of a lot. In a way, he is making another bet here that he can sell these three condominiums, even if they are somewhat less than what he proposed, for a very pretty penny, perhaps to the owners of the 150-foot yachts that get docked in the slips to the south of Long Wharf.

These are people with money to burn, with the wherewithal to have helicopters parked on the top of their yachts’ upper decks. Imagine having a 10-room waterfront home, even at 6,000 square feet quite a pad, smack on the waterfront beach, overlooking the sunset and adjacent to the beachfront park next door.

The plans for the park include the beach, a playground, restrooms, trails, a boat pier and a public plaza with seating. Every summer, the Sag Harbor Community Band gives a free concert at the other end of town, in front of the American Legion Post on Bay Street—the street is blocked off for the occasion—playing marches and other patriotic songs and then, at the end, as a great final composition, the finale of the “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky, at which point cannons thunder off blank charges in the direction of the sea.

Now wouldn’t that be something at sunset at the John Steinbeck Park.

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