Development plans of the long-awaited John Steinbeck Waterfront Park in Sag Harbor took a major step forward last week when Southampton Town Board members unanimously agreed to spend $10.5 million from its Community Preservation Fund to purchase 1.25 acres from the developer Jay Bialsky, who owns the three parcels making up the site.
The board acted unanimously on July 10 after a brief hearing at which Sag Harbor Mayor Sandra Schroeder and Trustee James LaRocca outlined the village’s plans to transform the derelict site, in the shadow of the Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge, into a park designed by landscape architect Ed Hollander. It will include a small amphitheater, restrooms, and “a literary walking trail” that will link it to Windmill Beach and Long Wharf, where the village is also planning a major renovation project to make it more pedestrian friendly.
“It completes a picture of a waterfront that has evolved from an old commercial, fishing, industrial waterfront to one that is devoted to recreation and enjoyment,” LaRocca said.
Schroeder said the amphitheater would have a scallop shell design and she would like to see an anchor at the site “to recognize the whalers. We are a whaling town, that is what we are most famous for.”
The park will be named after the Nobel Prize-winning novelist who spent his last years in Sag Harbor and set off from the village to chronicle early 1960s America with his French poodle, which was later chronicled in the book, Travels with Charley.
Steinbeck’s octagonal writing gazebo remains in the yard of his former cottage overlooking Morris Cove at the end of Bluff Point Lane, and Schroeder said village officials would like to move it to the park, where there will be a sculpture of the Steinbeck and his dog.
“We are coming here today in celebration,” said Jane Young, a board member of the organization Save Sag Harbor, which has sought for years to preserve the property, which had been slated for up to 20 condominiums. She added the village had contributed a large amount of money to the CPF over the years. “We are really happy to receive that CPF back to us in a way that is so meaningful,” she said.
Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni, who grew up in Sag Harbor and lives in North Haven, said he was happy to see the property slated for use as a park. “Almost as important as what’s going in there is what is not going in there,” he said, referring to the old plans for condos. “Those drawings were pretty scary,” he said.
Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said he hoped the village would move quickly to transform the site, which has two abandoned buildings and an overgrown parking lot, into the new park.
Schroeder said design committees were expected to begin work in August and she hoped the initial work could be completed in early 2019.