Home » Sag Harbor’s partnership with Southampton to buy land for school sports field fails. What happens next?

Sag Harbor’s partnership with Southampton to buy land for school sports field fails. What happens next?

When the Sag Harbor school district announced plans in September to purchase five lots adjacent to Pierson Middle/High School to build an athletic field, proponents of the acquisition called it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

To acquire the property, the district sought a unique partnership with Southampton Town, which under the proposal would allocate $6 million from the Community Preservation Fund — property transfer tax revenue the town uses for land acquisition — toward the purchase.

The partnership, however, ran into several roadblocks — a combination of miscommunication, environmental concerns and differing visions — ultimately leading the district to bail on the collaboration. 

“Right now, I think the deal is dead,” Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said March 24.

The town board recently determined it could not approve Community Preservation Fund money until further environmental review was completed — a timeline that did not match the district’s goal to have a decision in time for the May school budget, when it hoped to present voters a bond to cover costs for the athletic field.

“They don’t want to take any chances that they might lose this property,” Schneiderman said. “I think they recognize having the town as partner also creates a number of conditions that could hamper the school’s ability to do whatever it wants with the property in the future.”

The district now will ask voters to approve a $6 million bond in May toward the acquisition of five lots along Marsden Street. The bond only would include funds for acquiring the land and not building an athletic field. The district hopes to determine next steps by reengaging community input.

A spokesperson for the school district said Sag Harbor Superintendent Jeff Nichols was unavailable for an interview.

Here are five takeaways from the failed partnership.

Students at Pierson currently use athletic fields at the privately owned Mashashimuet Park, which is about a mile from the school building. Students routinely walk from the school to the fields or travel to neighboring hamlets to use other facilities.

The district had said the new field would provide its teams greater flexibility in scheduling practices and games.

The district held a vote in November to access money from an existing capital reserve fund as an initial step toward the acquisition. Voters approved the proposition by a vote of 638-521.

The town board held a public hearing Feb. 28, and critics argued the project would have negative environmental impacts and was an unjustified use of the Community Preservation Fund. The town board adjourned the hearing until March 14, when an overflow crowd of school supporters urged the town to back the proposal.

Schneiderman said the town would need to conduct a review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act before Community Preservation Fund money could be approved. He said the town has no reason now to pursue the environmental review since it will not be involved in the purchase.

“We’re in a holding pattern,” he said. “There’s going to be no action from the town.” 

Daniel Marsili of Sag Harbor, who has fourth-grade twins, has been one of the vocal supporters of the acquisition and proposed athletic field.

He said neighbors and civic groups have used a “whac-a-mole” strategy to raise concern after concern.

“What they really don’t want is a field near their homes,” he said. “That’s classic NIMBYism.”

Marsili said he believes the school and town both share blame for the partnership falling through, while adding that an athletic field is “badly needed.”

“The parents and working families of this village are organizing,” he said. “They are truly disenfranchised. People who are forgotten create a movement. I think there’s a movement afoot, and I think folks might underestimate that.”

Schneiderman said he believes there was some unintentional miscommunication during the process.

In the town board’s view, he said, they initially imagined a “smaller-scale development.” 

“At least from my perspective, we realized it was very much driven by the needs of the school for greater athletic facilities, and it wasn’t really an equal partnership that way,” he said.

Without the town as a partner, the district could “have a lot more flexibility,” the supervisor added.

The town, for example, persuaded the district to remove a turf field and stadium lights from its original proposal. 

Marsili said he was hopeful the bond would pass and added the community has a history of supporting bond votes.

Sag Harbor voters will decide May 16 whether to approve a $6 million bond during the normal budget vote. The total cost for the land acquisition is estimated at $9.425 million, according to the resolution. The district already has $3.425 million on hand in a capital reserve fund.

If voters approve the bond, the district will then begin a community engagement process to determine how the property could be used.

Schneiderman said if the bond fails, it’s possible the district could try to reengage the town on a partnership.

When the Sag Harbor school district announced plans in September to purchase five lots adjacent to Pierson Middle/High School to build an athletic field, proponents of the acquisition called it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

To acquire the property, the district sought a unique partnership with Southampton Town, which under the proposal would allocate $6 million from the Community Preservation Fund — property transfer tax revenue the town uses for land acquisition — toward the purchase.

The partnership, however, ran into several roadblocks — a combination of miscommunication, environmental concerns and differing visions — ultimately leading the district to bail on the collaboration. 

“Right now, I think the deal is dead,” said Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, seen here in 2022.
Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

“Right now, I think the deal is dead,” Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said March 24.

The town board recently determined it could not approve Community Preservation Fund money until further environmental review was completed — a timeline that did not match the district’s goal to have a decision in time for the May school budget, when it hoped to present voters a bond to cover costs for the athletic field.

“They don’t want to take any chances that they might lose this property,” Schneiderman said. “I think they recognize having the town as partner also creates a number of conditions that could hamper the school’s ability to do whatever it wants with the property in the future.”

The district now will ask voters to approve a $6 million bond in May toward the acquisition of five lots along Marsden Street. The bond only would include funds for acquiring the land and not building an athletic field. The district hopes to determine next steps by reengaging community input.

A spokesperson for the school district said Sag Harbor Superintendent Jeff Nichols was unavailable for an interview.

Here are five takeaways from the failed partnership.

A field hockey match in Sag Harbor on Oct. 8,...

A field hockey match in Sag Harbor on Oct. 8, 2013. The Sag Harbor School District has touted the proposal to buy lots adjacent to Pierson Middle/High School as a rare opportunity to build a field close to the school. Students now walk about a mile to fields at Mashashimuet Park.
Credit: George A. Faella

Important property

Students at Pierson currently use athletic fields at the privately owned Mashashimuet Park, which is about a mile from the school building. Students routinely walk from the school to the fields or travel to neighboring hamlets to use other facilities.

The Sag Harbor School District will seek to purchase wooded lots near Pierson Middle/High School in Sag Harbor without assistance from Southampton Town. The purchase would not include funds for an athletic field. 
Credit: Sag Harbor Union Free School Dis/H2M Architects + Engineers

The district had said the new field would provide its teams greater flexibility in scheduling practices and games.

The district held a vote in November to access money from an existing capital reserve fund as an initial step toward the acquisition. Voters approved the proposition by a vote of 638-521.

Divided community

The town board held a public hearing Feb. 28, and critics argued the project would have negative environmental impacts and was an unjustified use of the Community Preservation Fund. The town board adjourned the hearing until March 14, when an overflow crowd of school supporters urged the town to back the proposal.

Schneiderman said the town would need to conduct a review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act before Community Preservation Fund money could be approved. He said the town has no reason now to pursue the environmental review since it will not be involved in the purchase.

“We’re in a holding pattern,” he said. “There’s going to be no action from the town.” 

Parents fight for field

Daniel Marsili of Sag Harbor, who has fourth-grade twins, has been one of the vocal supporters of the acquisition and proposed athletic field.

He said neighbors and civic groups have used a “whac-a-mole” strategy to raise concern after concern.

“What they really don’t want is a field near their homes,” he said. “That’s classic NIMBYism.”

Marsili said he believes the school and town both share blame for the partnership falling through, while adding that an athletic field is “badly needed.”

“The parents and working families of this village are organizing,” he said. “They are truly disenfranchised. People who are forgotten create a movement. I think there’s a movement afoot, and I think folks might underestimate that.”

Miscommunication

Schneiderman said he believes there was some unintentional miscommunication during the process.

In the town board’s view, he said, they initially imagined a “smaller-scale development.” 

“At least from my perspective, we realized it was very much driven by the needs of the school for greater athletic facilities, and it wasn’t really an equal partnership that way,” he said.

Without the town as a partner, the district could “have a lot more flexibility,” the supervisor added.

The town, for example, persuaded the district to remove a turf field and stadium lights from its original proposal. 

Marsili said he was hopeful the bond would pass and added the community has a history of supporting bond votes.

What’s next

Sag Harbor voters will decide May 16 whether to approve a $6 million bond during the normal budget vote. The total cost for the land acquisition is estimated at $9.425 million, according to the resolution. The district already has $3.425 million on hand in a capital reserve fund.

If voters approve the bond, the district will then begin a community engagement process to determine how the property could be used.

Schneiderman said if the bond fails, it’s possible the district could try to reengage the town on a partnership.