After four public hearings and several informational meetings with the Greenport Business Improvement District, the Greenport Village Board have agreed to hold open its public hearing on a sweeping series of changes to the village code until the board’s next meeting this coming Thursday, Sept. 28 at 6 p.m.
Numerous members of the village’s business community shared their thoughts on the proposed code changes at their most recent chance to weigh in at a public hearing on Sept. 21, and many were concerned about how expanding their businesses might trigger the village requiring them to pay a large sum into the village’s parking fund.
Many thanked the board for continuing to hold the hearing open well past Labor Day, as they caught up with village affairs after devoting themselves to their businesses round-the-clock in the midst of the busy summer season, and said they believed the village and the business community were close to an agreement on how best to move forward.
The village published numerous changes to its code revisions Sept. 8, after hearing from the community in the first three public hearings.
Among the most substantial of those changes was in the definition of a “substantial expansion,” which would have triggered payment into a parking fund from an increase of 10 percent of the gross floor area of a building to an increase of the lesser of 30 percent of the gross floor area or 500 square feet, or an expansion that exceeds 25 percent of the market value of the building prior to the construction.
The revision also makes clear that, in buildings reconstructed following damage, the market value used will be the value prior to the damage.
The revision also increases the minimum size of a building with a new conditional use (bars, restaurants and hotels) that would trigger paying into the parking fund from 1,300 square feet to 1,500 square feet.
“I commend the board on their bravery. These changes run the spectrum of really good, some middle and some bad. Nobody should expect to be 100 percent happy,” Ian Wile, owner of Little Creek Oysters, told the board at the Sept. 21 hearing. “Large scale developers will look at it [the parking fund payments] as an ugly but needed component of what amounts to a portfolio play, but for small businesses, it’s a barrier to beginning.
Mr. Wile urged the board to reconsider a provision that parking fund payments would be triggered by more than eight outdoor seats, pointing out that an ice cream shop with a couple picnic tables could easily end up in that category.
A provision that would include the number of employees in the calculation for the number of parking spaces provided also “sends a terrible message to new businesses that fewer employed people is a good thing,” he said.
My building is held together by dreams and tar paper. A lot of buildings in Greenport are made of dreams and tar paper,” he added. “All we ask is to be able to put more tar paper on the walls when the storm comes.”
Mr. Wile added that “from late May to September, much of the working population is highly occupied,” and asked the board to consider in the future doing much of its legislative work in the off-season.
The new board, which took office in April, enacted a six-month development moratorium downtown while the code changes were made. The moratorium is slated to expire Oct. 20.
“I understand you were up against the moratorium deadline,” added Mr. Wile. “I have not been able to participate as much as I would have liked.”
Julia King, a musician and Greenport resident, agreed.
“I wish I could have been more involved,” she said. “What the code looks like to me is you’re creating a time capsule and freezing the businesses that currently exist and making it impossible for them to grow and change.”
She added that she believes there are less cumbersome ways to limit formula businesses (aka chain stores) than the ways spelled out in the code revisions.
“I respect you guys have been working hard for six months. We just need more time,” she said.
BID President Nancy Kouris also asked for more time, and said the bid is not in favor of the code changes “at this time,” and “will use legal counsel to uphold the rights of property owners in the business district.”
Attorney Christopher Kent, of Riverhead, said he was working on behalf of the Greenport BID and that state law allows “impact fees” like the parking fund only if the village has done a study and laid out how it plans to use the fund to increase parking.
“At one time, the village did have a parking fund that remained unspent because the village had no real opportunity to spend it, unless the village were to elect to exercise its eminent domain powers or repurpose municipally owned property to construct multi-story parking garages,” he said. “Whatever option the village chooses would require a study, and an adopted plan with findings that justify the action, and also id’s the monitary amount you would need.”
He asked that the hearing be kept open for 10 days so his office could submit documentation of relevant state and case law.
Tora Matsuoka of Seasoned Hospitality, which owns Claudio’s Restaurant, said he has been encouraged by the information sessions the village has held with the BID.
“We all really appreciate the time and effort everyone has put into this,” he said. “I feel there is so much promise to come for Greenport. We all agree this is such an amazing village. The code has a lot of positive changes in it, but there are certain points that seem to be anti-business. We can work through these quite quickly together. We need just a little bit more time.
Matthew Michel, who owns the 1943 Pizza Bar and the building that used to be Emilio’s Pizza on Main Street, said that when he did the calculations for the parking required for the restaurant he plans to build at the Emilio’s site, “it would cost us $1.3 million before we even started building.”
“I don’t see where the parking issue is in this town,” he added. “If I can’t find parking right in front of my restaurant, within one to two blocks I can always find a space. It seems like either its intention is to drive away very specific businesses, or it’s just really not been thought about at all.”
He added that he was concerned that the village’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP), which should serve as a guiding document for the village’s future, similar to a comprehensive plan, was “abandoned because we were short on time.”
Mayor Kevin Stuessi explained that the Suffolk County Planning Commission, when it weighed in on the moratorium in April, asked the village to focus on the code changes as the reason for the moratorium, and to continue working on its LWRP independent of the moratorium timeframe.
“All the LWRP work and subcommittees continue,” said Mr. Stuessi.
Samantha Montorsi said she is also concerned about the parking requirement for businesses over 1,500 square feet, and that the spaces for employees will “make people want to have a smaller staff.”
She also expressed concern about a new entertainment permit process spelled out in the code update, which states that businesses can have their entertainment permits revoked after three noise code violations in two years.
“I think that’s kind of low. In two years, there are six major holiday weekends,” she said. She added that many people have told her they didn’t know about the code changes until very recently.
Mr. Stuessi said new Village Clerk Candace Hall is going to be launching a village newsletter, and a fact sheet about the proposed changes will be posted on the village’s website on Monday, Sept. 25.
(Editor’s Note: The FAQ is posted online here.)
He added that he’s concerned that a lot of misinformation about the code changes is being spread around the village, and that former mayor Dave Kapell sent a letter to the newspaper published Sept. 21 that “included a lot of incorrect information.”
“We’re doing a lot of things to encourage small business,” said Mr. Stuessi. “Parking fees were eliminated for most new businesses so a small business coming into any retail space, or a modest restaurant, won’t pay into the parking fund.”
The public hearing will continue on Sept. 28 at 6 p.m. at the Third Street Firehouse. Due to malfunctions in the village’s livestreaming equipment, the meeting will not be live streamed, and the board is asking everyone who wants to be involved with real-time discussion to join the meeting in person. A tape of the meeting will be posted to the website “as soon as possible.”