Greenport Village, like much of the East End, is at a crossroads in terms of how to shape its future development, and members of the village board spent much of August debating the best way to go forward with guiding that development.
At a special meeting Aug. 4, board members shared their top priorities, which ranged from addressing the housing crisis to protecting the village’s working waterfront to whether to enact a development moratorium while making changes to the village code to address these issues.
After much debate, the board settled on a top priority — addressing an area of the middle of downtown Greenport where numerous properties that are not on the waterfront are currently zoned for “Waterfront Commercial” uses, despite their lack of access to the water.
They decided not to go forward with the moratorium.
Hotels and restaurants are not permitted as of right in the Waterfront Commercial zoning district, but are allowed as a conditional use that requires people who want to establish these businesses to meet numerous additional requirements of the code, which has historically placed a heavy burden on the village’s overworked land use boards.
The village board decided at its Aug. 18 work session to change the zoning of these landlocked downtown properties to “Retail Commercial,” where hotels and eating establishments are allowed as of right, or to “Residential,” in the case of several properties which are currently being used residentially. They have since scheduled a public hearing on the change for the board’s Thursday, Sept. 22 meeting at 7 p.m. –
This measure addresses just one of several issues raised at the Aug. 4 special meeting.
“I’ve been concerned that development in downtown and the waterfront is getting out of control and beyond our means to deal with it,” said Trustee Julia Robins. “Pre-Covid, I thought we were becoming a town mainly of restaurants and entertainment venues, but I don’t think that should be the sole direction. I would like to see more retail and light manufacturing. I personally don’t think the restaurant industry is a sustainable, long-term job for people. Coupled with the housing crisis, I don’t think that’s a sustainable model for Greenport. We need a pause to get a handle on this.”
“My end game goal is to secure the working waterfront,” said Trustee Mary Bess Phillips. “In 1996, when the code was written, Greenport had a totally different economic basis. Times change.”
“With waterfront commercial, I think that’s Number One. We need to get that on the table,” said Ms. Phillips. “What sort of businesses do we want to encourage, to move away from the tourism industry. When the economy starts to falter, tourism starts to falter.”
Ms. Phillips suggested the village tackle two separate issues — protecting the working waterfront and dealing with the waterfront-zoned properties that aren’t on the waterfront — as a top priority.
She added that she thought the village should look into doing away with a section of the code that allows “artist dwelling” as a use in the downtown commercial district — there had only been one such artist dwelling designated since the code was enacted in 1998 — and instead add new provisions allowing affordable apartments downtown, regardless of whether the occupants are artists.
“The artist loft code was well-intended when we first put it in, but I don’t think it’s a valid portion of the code now,” she said.
Trustee Peter Clarke said he agreed with tackling the “easy lift” of addressing the landlocked waterfront-zoned properties first. He added that he thought the village should consider “expressly eliminating motels, hotels, conference halls and housing and condominiums in the portion of the waterfront commercial with direct water access,” and also add a passenger ferry as a potential conditional use there.
“It would legitimize how businesses have operated in the past, but at the same time could protect the remainder of the property that has not yet been developed,” he added.
Board members agreed that they had to do more to define how accessory apartments could be addressed in the village code.
“We’ve been stalled on accessory dwellings,” said Village Attorney Joseph Prokop. “We had that discussion for a month or two, then the state adopted a law allowing accessory dwelling units that got killed. The town (of Southold) wanted to see how that played out. I don’t think we should wait for that anymore. Whatever happens with the town shouldn’t hold up affordable housing.”
Southold Town is working on an affordable housing plan in conjunction with a referendum on this November’s ballot on whether to create a special fund for affordable housing — though the town and not the village would oversee that fund, the village would still be in charge of determining what’s allowed to be built within its boundaries.
“The village has a sewer. Other places in town need advanced onsite wastewater treatment,” said Ms. Robins. “We can push the envelope on an accessory dwelling law, and expand what we permit here. As far as I’m concerned, the town and the village didn’t have the foresight to realize this was going to be happening 30 to 40 years ago.”
Ms. Phillips cautioned that the village would have to find a way to find parking for additional residences, while Mayor George Hubbard cautioned that it would be difficult to insist property owners build apartments that had to be affordable, since they would be unlikely to build them if they couldn’t get a return on their investment.