Greenport Village is filled right now with optimism for the future, and with ideas that the new government here hopes will make the village a more sustainable community for years to come.
A crowd of more than 200 people showed up for the first of two “Vision for Greenport” sessions held at the Greenport Theater (soon to become the North Fork Arts Center) on Front Street June 13, organized to give the community an update on the work being done to update the village code and revamp its Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP) during a downtown building moratorium that is slated to expire this fall.
In true Greenport fashion, members of the new village board were quick to thank their predecessors for the work they’ve done to preserve the village’s maritime heritage and tight-knit community, while adapting to its newfound status as a high-end tourist destination.
“What we’re doing now is part of an ongoing process, but these planning efforts have a long history,” said Village Trustee Patrick Brennan, who served as chair of the village’s planning board before being elected to the village board in a contentious race this March. “So many people have worked on this already over the past decade. I want them to know we’re acknowledging their work and pushing it forward.”
The village’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program should be “a guiding document that governs what we can and should be doing as a village. It should effectively become our Comprehensive Plan,” said new Village Mayor Kevin Stuessi. “Every time the board makes a decision, it should be referring to the LWRP as a guiding document.”
The village’s current LWRP was last updated in 1996, and while work was done to update it between 2010 and 2014, the changes proposed then were never adopted.
Currently, five subcommittees within the village’s Waterfront Advisory Planning Committee are working on distinct issues — Code Updates; Transportation, Parking and Wayfinding; Communications and Community Engagement; Harbor Management and Infrastructure and LWRP Updates.
Mr. Stuessi said the village has already taken steps to address longstanding issues, hiring a full-time grant writer and preparing to hire a second code enforcement officer, and receiving a commitment form Southold Town to add new officers to walk the beat in Greenport beginning this summer.
He asked the community to “be active and engaged and come to meetings and ask questions” as code updates are proposed over the course of the summer.”
“How many more restaurants do we want? Do we want or need new hotels in the Village of Greenport? Our guiding principle is going to be updating the LWRP,” he added.
Mr. Stuessi said that his administration plans to support businesses as they work to open during the moratorium, giving shouts out to business owners who are opening everything from a yoga studio to a silver jewelry store to a crêpe shop to an expansion of an art gallery into a hotly contested spot in the center of the village at the corner of Front and Main Streets.
He added that he has had discussions with the owners of the long-shuttered Arcade department store on Front Street about how to help their building contribute to the village’s vibrance.
“I’m happy ownership sat down with me over coffee and pastries and we discussed some immediate improvements and a longer term plan to get the building activated,” said Mr. Stuessi in an interview after the meeting. “I’m very much looking forward to following up with them this week.”
VSOP Projects, in the village’s historic former charter house just west of Third Street, is opening a second gallery, Very Special, in the former Sweet Indulgences candy store at 200 Main Street, at the corner of Front and Main Streets. Their grand opening reception will be held this Saturday, June 17 from 6 to 8 p.m.
The owners of that property, who hope to build a three-story, 22-room boutique hotel there, had been at odds with the village during the course of the moratorium discussions, believing their project had been singled out.
“I reached out to the owners a few times in late 2022 as a private citizen, encouraging them to do something with the space,” said Mr. Stuessi. “Once in office, I met with them and urged them to do the same and was very happy they agreed to find a tenant, beautify the space and restore the gardens so beloved by the community. I met with Jonathan Weiskopf, the owner of VSOP, and encouraged him to take the space.”
Mr. Stuessi added that preserving the village’s working waterfront is his top priority, and the village is looking into allowing a scientific institution that studies marine science to offer classes, including in wooden boatbuilding, in zones where educational programming is currently not allowed by the code.
“My guiding principle is always going to be to listen to what the community wants, and be a good neighbor too,” he said. “We want to make sure we have a vibrant community in the winter here too.”
“Being a good business person is also being a good neighbor,” he added, pointing out media coverage of Hamptons reality show star and 75 Main owner Zach Erdem’s new restaurant and hotel in Greenport, Zerdem Restaurant and ZEY Hotel on Main Street. The restaurant has been charged with village code violations for allegedly serving liquor without a liquor license and housing employees in a trailer behind the restaurant.
“They told us they would do one thing, and they went and did something else,” said Mr. Stuessi. “We not only fined them for operating illegally, but we’ve gone all the way to get a judge to issue a final injunction. It’s not ok to be a bad neighbor.”
The Southold Town Justice Court has vacated a preliminary injunction against the restaurant, but the village is continuing to pursue the matter in New York State Supreme Court
Mr. Stuessi added that the village will now require everyone who has applied to the state for a liquor license to come before the village board to explain their plans.
The village has also been working on cleaning up burned out buildings where homeless people have been living, and cleaning up downtown areas on Adams Street and behind the carousel in Mitchell Park where people have been sleeping.
“We’ve gotta find homes, too, for some of the people who don’t have them,” said Mr. Stuessi.
He said the village has asked the owners of the 123 Sterling condominium complex, who agreed to provide five affordable apartments as a condition of their site plan approval, to come into village hall by the end of this week to make those apartments available to village residents who qualify for affordable housing.
Village Trustee Mary Bess Phillips, who chairs the Code Updates subcommittee, said the village is considering creating incentives for owners of downtown buildings to provide affordable rental apartments, in collaboration with Southold Town’s new Community Housing Fund.
She said some retail businesses on lower Main Street currently are operating as a “conditional use” because the properties are zoned ‘waterfront commercial,’ a holdover from a time when the village’s bread and butter was waterfront-dependent uses.
“We’re going permitted use by permitted use (through the code) and comparing it to how the properties are being used,” said Ms. Phillips, who was quick to thank former Mayor George Hubbard and the former members of the Village Board for kicking off the code update efforts.
Ms. Phillips added that Greenport has seen an influx in commercial fishing vessels because they can get work done in this port — work they are having more and more difficulty getting done elsewhere.
Ms. Phillips urged members of the public to attend the Code Update meetings at 4 p.m. on Wednesdays at the Old Schoolhouse at 101 Front Street, and said she’s hoping to have some draft code updates finalized by the end of June or the beginning of July.
“When we get the code decision making done, the moratorium will end,” she said.
Mr. Brennan, who chairs the Harbor Management and Infrastructure Updates committee, said his subcommittee is working on updating the village’s Harbor Management Plan, last done in 2012. A Harbor Management Plan is a required part of a Local Waterfront Revitalization Program. That committee is also assessing the village’s utilities, sewer systems, bulkheads, parks and piers. He said Southold Town is expected to have a dedicated Bay Constable to serve as Harbormaster in Greenport Harbor, ensuring vessels don’t speed within the harbor, and that the subcommittee may need to hire an engineering consultant to fully assess the village’s infrastructure. That committee meets at 5 p.m. on Tuesdays in the Old Schoolhouse.
Trustee Julia Robins chairs the Transportation, Parking and Wayfinding subcommittee, which is seeking new members. She said the subcommittee is planning to have parking management companies, including ParkMobile, which is being used in Sag Harbor, present possible parking management strategies to the village board.
Comments from the public ran the gamut from issues with the queue for the North Ferry to Shelter Island (a plan is in the works to change that flow this coming winter) to the dangers of one-way traffic on Webb Street to the new administration’s vote to raise taxes to the proposed Peconic Jitney passenger water taxi between Greenport and Sag Harbor to the status of the village’s debt to providing funding for summer programs and parks for kids.
Mr. Stuessi said that village taxes are a small portion of property owners’ overall tax bill, and that an average homeowner can expect to pay $50 to $60 more per year with the new taxes.
“Our goal is to find other ways of funding, which is why the board voted to bring somebody to work in village hall to bring in grants and funding to fix things that need to be fixed,” he said. He added that the Peconic Jitney will be giving a presentation at the next village board meeting, though the village has yet to find a perfect place for the water taxi to park because Mitchell Park, their original docking location during a 2013 pilot program, is much busier than it was then.
Ms. Phillips said the village will have paid off all the work done to create Mitchell Park this August, thanks to rebonding done during former Mayor David Nyce’s term, and had also been able to receive funding from the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation to upgrade the village’s sewer plant.
“Our debt situation is very positive,” she said.
Ms. Phillips said the new plans for the North Ferry queue, which is on land leased from the MTA by the ferry company, are on the village’s website, and include reorienting the queue so there will be five or six lanes adjacent to one another, similar to the ferry lines at the Cross Sound Ferry, which will “hopefully keep the bulk of the traffic off of Wiggins Street.”
“The biggest problem right now is trying to figure out how to deal with the construction,” she said. “We have a short time period between the Maritime Festival (in September) and May to get this done.” She added that she updates the village board on the progress of the ferry project at every meeting.
“The time is now to think big and think outside the box,” said Trustee Lily Dougherty-Johnson, who chairs the Communications and Community Engagement subcommittee. She added that a Spanish translator will be available at the next Vision for Greenport meeting. “Community and communication go together. We can’t have one without the other.”
“I’m so excited to see so many people in this room,” said Trustee Phillips. “It’s a testament to our community.”
The second Vision for Greenport session will be held on Thursday, July 6 at 6:30 p.m., also at the Greenport Theater (211 Front Street). All are welcome to attend.