Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story stated the January public hearing would be held on a different date. It has since been corrected.
The Greenport Village Board, which has made several changes to its proposed moratorium on development in three downtown zoning districts since a public hearing was set for Dec. 22, closed the public hearing on the original draft Thuresday evening and set a public hearing on a new draft of the law for Jan. 26 at 7 p.m.
The new draft provides a process for property owners seeking exemptions from the moratorium for emergency work and to prevent vacant storefronts downtown. Here’s the draft of changes to the moratorium proposed by the planning board.
The administrative moratorium on development in those districts adopted Dec. 2 will remain in effect until Jan. 26, said Greenport Village Attorney Joe Prokop at the board’s Dec. 22 meeting.
After months of discussion on how best to chart the village’s future, members of the public turned out in droves to the village’s November meeting asking the board to consider the moratorium, in light of great recent interest in the village on the part of developers, and then showed up again at a Dec. 2 special meeting pleading for a moratorium.
Hundreds of people, many of them local business owners, have signed a petition asking for a moratorium, during which a new Waterfront Advisory and Planning Committee would be charged with preparing a draft update of the village’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, first prepared between 2010 and 2014 but never adopted, and updating the village’s zoning code to reflect the manner in which Greenporters want to see the village develop in the future.
The process is designed to “protect and preserve the working waterfront of the village, water dependent uses in the village, the orderly development of the village, and the protection and preservation of the character of the Village of Greenport,” according to the resolution adopted Dec. 2.
At the Dec. 22 meeting, the Village Board voted to appoint Mayor George Hubbard or Trustee Julia Robins, Trustee Mary Bess Phillips, ZBA Chairperson John Saladino or ZBA member Dena Zemsky as an alternate, Planning Board Chairperson Patrick Brennan or Planning Board member Daniel Creedon as an alternate, Historic Preservation Commission Chairperson Jane Ratsey Williams or HPC member Roselle Borelli, residents and property owners Jeanne Cooper and Steven Clark to the Waterfront Advisory and Planning Committee, as the board had originally proposed, along with Kevin Steussi, Randy Wade, William Swiskey, Stacey Tesseyman, Eric Elkin and Christopher Hamilton, after residents said at the Dec. 2 meeting that they’d like to see more people on the committee.
“We need more people. They’re welcome. It’s good to have more people involved,” said Mr. Hubbard, adding that he’s still interested in hearing from people who’d like to be on the committee.
Turnout was more sparse at the Dec. 22 hearing than at recent meetings, and several of the speakers expressed reservations about the moratorium, including the attorney for and developers of a proposed new 22-room hotel at the corner of Front and Main streets, and Village Business Improvement District President Richard Vandenburgh, a co-founder of the Greenport Harbor Brewing Company.
Southampton Attorney David Gilmartin, representing HF2 Hotel Owner, LLC, which has proposed the three-story hotel in the center of town at the site of a recently closed chocolate shop that had once been a laundromat, said he believed there was no way the village could adopt the changes it seeks within the time frame of a six to 12 month moratorium.
“If I’m saying it will take two years, I’m giving the village the benefit of the doubt,” he said, pointing out that the 2014 LWRP took four years to develop and was never adopted. “Who’s going to write this? You’re all volunteers. It’s a Herculean task, and it is going to take time.”
He estimated that, if his client needs to come back after the moratorium to go through the site plan process to get their building permit, it would mean a four-to-five year delay.
“There’s no moratorium on a mortgage payment, on insurance, property taxes and carrying costs. Those things have real life impacts to real people,” he said.
“There’s some idea that currently there’s overdevelopment in Greenport,” he said. “From 2017 to 2019, there were far more applications before the board. In the past three years, there’s far less development. There’s no run on development, no overdevelopment here. It’s fiction.”
Mark Boyle, a partner in the project with Erik Warner, who is part of the team that owns the Sound View and Harborfront inns, said he and several other families had invested close to $3 million “in this small project on Main Street.”
“The eyes of the region will turn to us and examine exactly why this village has issued a moratorium,” he said. “They will label our community a capricious bunch of extremists, passing laws that are unnecessary and without merit. Existing growing businesses will cease to grow, and if businesses can’t grow, their values are capped, which means real estate values in this community will stagnate as well. If they stagnate, what will happen to all our property taxes? Have all of you run the math on an unnecessary moratorium? That would be the economic kiss of death to biz here.”
Mr. Vandenburgh, of the BID, said the group’s members “do have concerns that have been advocated many times that we should be 100 percent clear on what the specific deliverables will be.”
“During a six-month pause, what do we hope to accomplish?” he asked. “A moratorium is the most extreme land use action a municipality can take… What does a moratorium really mean? Do people understand the impact? Is it fear-driven innuendo that creates a form of hysteria? A hastily implemented moratorium that ignores the facts — that can absolutely affect our tax base. Why would you want to undermine the strength of our tax base?”
Village Planning Board member Tricia Hammes, who drafted many of the changes to the moratorium to allow exemptions for property owners looking to do minor or emergency work during the moratorium, said that none of the previous speakers made concrete suggestions to strengthen the law before them.
“Maybe you guys should look at the law and make concrete suggestions next time, instead of just being negative,” she said, adding that residents have been asking for a moratorium for more than a year. “People just need to try to work together here. The village hasn’t updated its laws in a long time.
Kevin Steussi urged the board to remember the community outpouring at several recent meetings.
“You’ve seen the community come out in force to tell you they want to see a moratorium enacted,” he said, adding that two of the biggest property owners in downtown Greenport had signed a petition asking for a moratorium.
Mr. Steussi said he has spent his life building restaurants and businesses and his most recent project took 10 years.
“That’s part of the risk of doing business,” he said. “If you’re committed to a community, stick with the community. Work through this together.”
As to the “fear tactics about economic depression,” Mr. Steussi said he’d “be glad to take you to Sag Harbor.”
“I’ll show you what’s happened to Sag Harbor in the last three years,” he said. “They just came out of a moratorium, and their real estate and property values are up. Five years from now, we’re only going to see continued rising property values in this town.”