Pictured Above: Trustee Candidates William Swiskey, Jack Martilotta, Monique Gohorel, Lili Dougherty-Johnson and Patrick Brennan.

Greenport residents had a chance to hear in depth from eight candidates running for mayor and two village board seats over the course of the past two weeks, in the run-up to the closely watched election scheduled for March 21.

The campaign was marred from the start by the initial disqualification of all the non-incumbent candidates on the ballot by the village clerk in mid-February, after they failed to send letters to village hall accepting their nominations — a requirement the clerk had not made them aware they had to fulfill. The village board voted unanimously to reinstate their candidacies after an overflow crowd showed up at the board’s Feb. 23 meeting demanding their names be put on the ballot.

Below are highlights from a Feb. 28 debate between the three mayoral candidates — incumbent Mayor George Hubbard, Greenport Harbor Brewing Company co-founder Richard Vandenburgh and Kevin Stuessi, a developer of restaurants and hotels and founder of Peconic Holdings, and from a March 8 debate between the five Village Trustee Candidates: Patrick Brennan, Lili Dougherty-Johnson, Monique Gohorel, William Swiskey and Jack Martilotta.

Mr. Brennan, an architect, shipwright and mechanic who is the owner of Wooden Boatworks in the village, is also the Chairman of the village Planning Board. Ms. Dougherty-Johnson is a Greenport native who has worked at the Floyd Memorial Library and CAST, and has worked on grantwriting for the village. Ms. Gohorel works at the Floyd Memorial Library and has been involved with the village’s farmers market and Business Improvement District, on its affordable housing committee and on a forum on hunger with CAST. Mr. Martilotta, a science teacher at Greenport High School, is also active in the Army National Guard and serves as Commander of the Greenport VFW. Mr. Swiskey is a retired Superintendent of Utilities for the village and a former Village Trustee.

Mr. Martilotta is the one incumbent in the race. Sitting Trustee Peter Clarke is not seeking re-election. Mr. Swiskey, who declined to sign a stipulation of settlement signed by the other three initially disqualified trustee candidates in order for their names appear on the ballot, is running as a write-in candidate.

One more Mayoral debate will be held on Tuesday, March 14 at 6:30 p.m. in the Greenport School Auditorium. All are welcome to attend.

On the Moratorium

No issue has galvanized Greenport more in recent weeks than a proposed six-month moratorium on development in three downtown zoning districts while the village works to update its Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP), which guides development in the village.

The Village Board has held open a public hearing on the moratorium for three months now, most recently in anticipation of comments from the Suffolk County Planning Commission. A temporary administrative moratorium has been in effect since early December in anticipation of the full moratorium.

The incumbents, who agreed to consider the moratorium as residents packed recent village meetings in favor of it, said at the debates that they believe the zoning changes in the LWRP can be made without a moratorium, while some of the challengers began their quest for public office after being involved with the moratorium effort.

“I’ve been back and forth on the moratorium. When it first came up, I was trying to work with the Village Board on the code changes, because the end result of the moratorium is we need to change the code to protect what we have going on downtown,” said Mayor Hubbard. “Right now we have zoning codes that are in effect that can be used to prevent some of what is going on down there. We do need to complete the LWRP, which we are doing now.”

“The moratorium per se, if it continues for a long period of time, could be detrimental to the downtown business district,” he added. “We got served with one lawsuit… I’m afraid that more will be coming up if we continue with the moratorium without an end game and getting something done… We don’t need 10 lawsuits that cost the taxpayers a lot of money.”

“I don’t support a full moratorium. I support select planning,” said Mr. Vandenburgh. “I believe this was a reaction to the fact that there was an inability to get the LWRP finished and updated. The village took their eye off the ball with getting the LWRP finished.”

“Do we really want to risk, because we have a room full of people, the fact that there could be somebody who brings a lawsuit against the village?” he added. “I think there’s plenty of mechanisms by which we can make sure that the development that people are fearful of will not happen. None of it has happened. I do think it’s an overreaction.”

Mr. Stuessi was instrumental in the moratorium effort.

“I believed it was something that needed to be done. I took the time away from my work and from my family to knock on doors,” he said. “What I thought would initially be a few minutes at a door, get turned away, or possibly get a signature, ended up being one of the happiest times of my time in Greenport. People invited me in… I heard that people felt the same way I felt, and that we were all very concerned about letting developers make decisions for us. We need to update our Local Waterfront Reviatalization Plan. The document on file in the Governor’s office is from 1996.”

“There was a lot of work put into updating the LWRP in the last administration, 10 or 12 years ago now. That document sat on the shelf until I went out and did the work, with everyone in the community, to get 200 signatures, go to village hall, fill the place twice and demand that action was taken. If you elect me mayor I promise you I will get things done.”

Mr. Martilotta, the incumbent Trustee, said he believes the Village Board “can make a couple code changes that would satisfy a lot of peoples’ concerns…. The LWRP and the moratorium have been married, but they should not be. The moratorium will be lifted before the LWRP is done. We need look at what code changes we want to make in the short term, and address those.”

“The codes have to be improved,” said Ms. Gohorel. “I think the LWRP sets the tone and guides us, but if we do have to wait two years, it will be too late.”

Ms. Dougherty-Johnson said she believes the village should always be updating all parts of the code.

“After the moratorium, long range planning doesn’t end,” she said. “You have to be constantly thinking about the future.”

“The moratorium affects the big things, but it doesn’t affect the day-to-day, doing business, changing a storefront or changing a business,” she added.

“We should have a Code Committee that is looking at these things all the time,” said Mr. Brennan, adding that getting community consensus will be the key to getting code changes passed. “We can engage the community with or without the moratorium.”

Mr. Swiskey said he doesn’t believe the moratorium should be enacted.

“This moratorium could run through the summer,” he said. “Nobody is going to come here and invest big bucks, say in May, and he won’t be able to do what he wants until September. The people coming here are savvy businessmen, and they’re not going to throw their money in a ditch.”

Left to right: Greenport Mayor George Hubbard, Richard Vandenburgh and Kevin Stuessi.

On Housing

The preponderance of short-term rentals and runaway real estate prices in the one-square-mile village has made living in Greenport an expensive proposition, while local businesses struggle to find workers who can afford to live here.

Mr. Vandenburgh said he believes the village should look at allowing additional apartments above stores, and should tax AirBNBs as businesses and increase enforcement of existing codes regulating short term rentals.

“A wartime effort is the goal. We need to make it happen,” he said.

Mr. Stuessi said the village needs “to look at every piece of available property” and work with other local, state and federal government agencies to make affordable housing a reality, and to study how best to accommodate accessory dwelling units — detached backyard apartments.

Mr. Hubbard said the Village Board has put together six drafts of a code regulating accessory dwelling units, but was never able to get a consensus to put the code up for public hearing. He added that he would like to see the village do more to encourage two-family houses. He said the village has been trying to find another code enforcement officer, but has not found anyone willing to take the job.

Ms. Wolf asked the Village Trustee candidates whether they would encourage accessory dwelling units or work to incentivize second and third story apartments on Front Street and asked for their reaction to a recently withdrawn proposal for a mixed use building just north of the village, at the intersection of Route 25 (Greenport’s Main Street) and Route 48, which would have included small affordable apartments and would have tied into the village’s sewer system.

“We do need to think outside the box,” said Ms. Gohorel. “I do think it’s necessary to involve Southold Town… We had a situation where a developer backed out, but do you want a room the size of a queen size hotel room? I don’t think that’s the dignity anybody should be asked to live in.”

Ms. Gohorel said that she believes people in the village fear that if accessory dwelling units are built they will simply turn into AirBNBs without someone to enforce the codes.

“We should do all those things within the village, but we should also be working with the larger community,” said Ms. Dougherty-Johnson.

Mr. Brennan said he believes the village’s ad hoc housing committee should be made a Housing Commission, which works with a regional mindset and attracts responsible developers. He added that access to the village’s sewage treatment plant, which still has a great deal of capacity, should be used to attract affordable developers to the area.

Mr. Swiskey said he thinks people who live in Greenport don’t want “a little apartment in their neighbor’s backyard” and he believes the voters of Greenport could pressure Southold Town to make some land available for affordable housing outside the village boundaries.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Matching skilled workers with jobs here is highly contingent on developing affordable housing.

Mr. Hubbard, a mechanic by trade, said he wished there were more manufacturing businesses like STIDD Systems, a large employer that makes boat seating in the village.

Mr. Stuessi said the village should have worked harder to protect the working waterfront by adopting its draft Local Waterfront Revitalization Program. He added that the village should be working in every way possible to get grant funding from the Inflation Reduction Act, and from New York State’s $4.5 billion Environmental Bond Act to fund projects in the village.

Mr. Vandenburgh said that “if we want to invest in jobs, we need to make sure there are places for people to live.”

At the Trustee debate, many of the candidates said Greenport would be a great place for technical training for marine trades.

“This would be a great place for a marine trades technical school,” said Mr. Brennan. “Vocational training opportunities are limited, and we need to hold up the value of vocational training.”

“Youth unemployment is unbelievable,” said Mr. Martilotta. “There’s a push to have a marine mechanic program at the Greenport school, and it’s getting traction now.”

“Greenport is having a difficult time recruiting teachers,” he added. “They have to make enough to pay rent that’s upwards of $3,000. We’ve gotta bring up what they’re making, or bring down the rent.”

“There needs to be a reboot. Bring back vocational, good paying jobs,” said Ms. Gohorel. “Everyone’s looking for nurses, but where do they live? Up island.”

Ms. Dougherty-Johnson said she believes the key will be to encourage development of the working waterfront with new industries, like the processing of seaweed.

“There are seaweed farms on the North Fork, and there are places where people are looking to process seaweed,” she said, adding that, while Cornell Cooperative Extension in Southold and East Hampton Town have aquaculture facilities, no such facility is located in Greenport.

Mr. Swiskey said “jobs that pay $35 to $50 an hour are usually bang-bang jobs, constructing something. It’s going to be noisy, and most people don’t want dirty. It might be dirty, but most people don’t want dirty in their neighborhood, which is why most of the jobs are in the worst paying sector of our economy” — the service industry.

“I don’t have an answer,” he said. “Maybe somebody else out there has an answer.”

Cleaning Things Up

Another topic of great concern in the village is properties that haven’t been maintained, and the longtime closure of The Arcade, a former department store on Front Street.

“The village can’t tell them what to do with their property, unless we want to go into eminent domain,” said Mr. Hubbard. “Some have been in court for four or five years. It’s gone on for years.”

“You can’t force people to do something with their property, as long as what they’re doing is within the village code,” said Mr. Martilotta. “It’s just not going to win in court. Property owners have rights.”

Mr. Brennan said he believes owners have obligations.

“During 2007 to 2008, a lot of communities were struggling with ‘zombie houses,'” he said. “Some municipalities were able to take over properties through tax liens and condemnation. I’m not sure why current landlords are doing this with properties right in our downtown. It’s very frustrating.”

Ms. Dougherty-Johnson said she thinks the village could institute a vacancy tax.

“There are ways to get people to do something with their properties,” she said. “We do have a code that says your house has to look like your neighbors’. I don’t know if it’s a good code, but it exists.”

“In Mystic, businesses have to be open all year round,” said Ms. Gohorel, even if they’re not open every day.

“Every business should be able to stay open for the weekend,” she said. “We need to streamline the process for opening a business. If you change the color of your front door, it shouldn’t take months to be approved.”

“With houses, it’s more difficult,” she added. “Do we know who owns the houses and where to find them?”

Mr. Swiskey said he doesn’t see a lot of derelict houses around the village, but that “people own houses, and that’s their right.”

The March 21 election will be held from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Greenport Firehouse at 236 Third Street.

Here’s our livestream of the March 8 Trustee debate, and the Mayoral debate on Feb. 28.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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