Update Aug. 25:

The public hearing on the code changes will continue at a special village board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 5 at 6 p.m. at the Third Street Firehouse.

Original Story Follows:

Residents and business owners who spoke at Aug. 20 and Aug. 24 hearing on a broad series of zoning changes for downtown Greenport seemed mostly to still be digesting what the new code will mean for the village, and many asked for more time to fully comprehend what the changes will mean for them.

The village, which has become a booming tourist destination, has embarked on the zoning changes in an attempt to protect its historic maritime industries and small businesses and to provide checks on the nightlife that has made downtown a headache for people who live there. The village is currently under a downtown development moratorium which Mayor Kevin Stuessi again pledged will be lifted “within the next few weeks” once the zoning changes are finalized.

The proposed code changes include rezoning a portion of the Waterfront Commercial properties downtown as Retail Commercial — these are properties along Front and Main streets that do not have access to the water and are currently already being used as retail shops. Bars, restaurants and hotels would be removed as conditional uses in the Waterfront Commercial zoning district, and would become conditional uses in the Retail Commercial District. Existing business would be allowed to remain so long as no “substantial expansion” occurs.

The village is also creating an entertainment permit process. Business owners who want to have live music or entertainment would obtain a two-year permit from the planning board, after which it can be renewed administratively if they don’t receive citations for violating the terms of the permit. The new code would ban nightclubs, which are defined as “an establishment primarily engaged in providing entertainment,” with features including age restrictions, cover charges, disc jockeys, sound systems and hours of operation that extend beyond the normal dinner hours.”

New conditional uses (bars, hotels and restaurants) in excess of 1,300 square feet, and those that want to expand by more than 10 percent would be subject to the village’s parking fund requirements, while permitted uses would not have to provide or pay for parking, in an attempt by the village to encourage more small mom and pop stores to open downtown.

Brendan Spiro, the Vice President of the Greenport Business Improvement District and the general manager of Green Hill Hospitality, told the board it’s the BID’s “strong opinion that we would like to request a second hearing. This has come out a little too premature for us to allow our membership to gain either a pro or detracting opinion for any of the proposed amendments. This is very important, since it is the waterfront and business district being affected.”

Village resident Roselle Borrelli said she was confused by the formatting of the proposed changes to definitions of waterfront dependent uses in the draft code update, which didn’t seem when she waded through the document to be based on the board’s intent to promote the village’s maritime interests.

Deputy Mayor Mary Bess Phillips said the goal of the new definition of “Marine Industry” in the proposed code is to “give the opportunity within that definition for any future marine-operating business to not be caught up in being unable to do anything.”

Planning Board Chair Tricia Hammes added that “nothing was made more restrictive here. Everything was made less restrictive.”

The propose Marine Industry definition reads as follows: “The industry that focuses on products and services to understand and work in, or use, the ocean, the bays and other marine bodies of water, including, without limitation, boat and yacht dealerships, boat rental businesses, boat storage facilities, boating/sailing instruction schools and other marine related education facilities, boat/yacht building and repair facilities, marine construction and salvage operations, facilities for marine pollution control, oil spill clean-up and servicing of marine sanitation devices, ship and marine chandleries, marine surveyors, naval architects, businesses engaged in the retail sale of equipment, goods (including bait and tackle supplies), materials, tools and parts used in connection with boating and fishing, oceanographic and marine biology research and ocean related renewable energy research.”

Ms. Borrelli seemed relieved.

“I had so many concerns,” she said. “I thought you all lost your minds.”

Little Creek Oysters owner Ian Wile said his business, an oyster bar in the former Whites Bait Shop on the water between Main and First streets, had benefitted from the village’s waterfront commercial zoning code when it first opened, when its primary operation was processing shellfish for wholesale and retail sale. That property will remain in the waterfront commercial zoning district under the proposed changes.

“I was grateful to be able to start a business with no nickels and build it into something important,” he said. Mr. Wile said he’s still digesting the code changes, but one of his primary concerns is that “it is entirely possible the building would be blown off by a hurricane, we couldn’t rebuild under this zoning…. It’s not my building, but if I could I would lift it up three feet so I could use it for the next 100 years. I always felt that grandfathering was a wise idea here…. If we want to preserve the waterfront, a lot of buildings are non-conforming.”

Zoning Board Chairman John Saladino said the problem with rebuilding would only arise if he lost more than 50 percent of the building.

“That’s highly likely,” said Mr. Wile. “We just lost half of Maui. If I tried to rebuild it and got a variance, I would need a million dollars worth of parking taxes to move forward.”

“Or relief (from the zoning board),” said Ms. Hammes.

“Or another town,” countered Mr. Wile. “I appreciate the hard work. I’m not here to argue. I’m here to ask questions.

“From my time on the Zoning Board, I don’t think that’s a hard ask,” said Mr. Saladino.

Sophia Antoniadis, who is opening a yoga studio at 308 Front Street, which is and will continue to be zoned commercial retail, said she believes rezoning the south side of Front Street that is currently waterfront commercial to retail commercial will give those properties an unfair advantage.

“You are downzoning and liquidating my property,” she said. “Another yoga studio can open up on Front Street. I don’t think that’s fair…. This is tampering with the free market. If they can’t get a business to move in, they could lower their rent if it’s a challenging location.”

“So you’re saying you’d only allow bait shops on that side of the street?” asked Ms. Hammes, adding that the businesses in that area are already mostly retail shops that currently have to come before the zoning board for a provisional use permit, which wouldn’t be required under the changes. “I highly doubt the rents are different there, because it hasn’t been an issue for them to get permits.”

Resident Chris Dowling asked questions on behalf of friends who run small marinas on Stirling Harbor, who may want to reconfigure their dock space, without expanding it, to allow for bigger boats. He asked if such reconfiguration would be considered a 10 percent increase that would trigger parking review, since it would allow the marinas to make more money from larger boats.

“If you’re reconfiguring, you would be decreasing the number of slips,” said Ms. Phillips, adding that the business’s income isn’t a village zoning concern. “The business is the business.”

John Kramer, who owns Bruce & Son, a Main Street breakfast spot in the center of the village, sent a letter to the board stating that “Bruce & Son will be unsaleable. If I want to sell I have to pay for parking spots for $25,000 each…. It sounds like the Bruce building will be worth $1 million less and my building will be unsaleable.”

Ms. Phillips read the village’s reply to the letter into the record.

“No businesses that constitutes an exempted use are required to provide parking, including existing uses,” she said. “This effectively means all current businesses are exempt from requirements, and the majority of new businesses.”

She added that the parking requirements would only apply to restaurants greater than 1,300 square feet.

“We believe your concerns are unfounded. Let us know if you wish to discuss this future,” she read. “I want to enter this into the record so everyone is clear.”

Michael Osinski, a co-owner of Widow’s Hole Oysters, asked the village board why the zoning changes include rezoning the Peconic Land Trust’s Widow’s Hole Preserve as parkland. The property is currently residentially zoned and the village had proposed the changes in order to reflect the existing use and ensure houses couldn’t be built there.

Mr. Osinski said an upland portion of the preserve is off limits to the public, though there is public access to the beach.

“A park means to me that I can go there,” he said. “Everything else that’s designated parkland is owned by the village.”

“Our motivation is that it’s not residential,” said Mayor Kevin Stuessi. “In a park district, it’s only permitted to be used as a park.”

No one commented on the village’s proposal to remove the “arts district” section of the village code, which had since 1998 allowed artist living quarters and studios downtown.

More information on the proposed changes is under the “What’s New” section on the home page of the village’s website, and the public is welcome at both the code updates meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 23 at 4 p.m. at the Old Schoolhouse on Front Street and at the Thursday, Aug. 25 continuation of the public hearing at 6 p.m. at the Third Street Firehouse.

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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