Would sights, sounds and smells of maritime jobs be welcome in Greenport?

09/01/2011 7:59 AM |

TIM KELLY PHOTO | A bird's eye view of Greenport Village.

Those who work Greenport’s waterfront believe it wouldn’t take much to enhance an area that shaped village history and forged its identity over a period of several centuries.

But are Greenporters willing to live with the less-than-pleasing sights, sounds and smells attendant to some maritime jobs?

That was the focus of an Aug. 24  Local Waterfront Revitalization meeting at the Third Street firehouse. The LWRP is intended to serve the state and village in guiding future development in Greenport.

LWRP consultant David Smith of VHB/Saccardi & Schiff told merchants, boat builders and others in water-dependent fields that 80 to 90 percent of those responding to a poll taken at an earlier LWRP meeting said a working waterfront is vital to the village’s development. Still, he admitted that some aspects of the maritime industry, such as commercial fishing, might not thrive, while boat building could have a lively future.

During the most recent meeting many agreed that maritime industries are important to the village yet, despite poll results, were skeptical of how welcome those activities would be.

Developer Richard Raskin, who was beaten back by neighbors when he tried to create a high-and-dry boat storage operation at Stirling Harbor, warned that litigation could stop any project neighbors view as unsightly.

To allow marine commercial businesses to thrive within the village, local government needs to defend lawsuits similar to those he and his partners faced, Mr. Raskin said.

The 123 Sterling Corp. finally gained approval instead for a condominium development that would have included space for boat repairs and maintenance. With the economic downturn, however, that project never got off the ground. The property is for sale, but there hasn’t been a single nibble from anyone interested in a commercial marine business, Mr. Raskin said.

“Greenport is already gentrified and that makes it hard to maintain some of the traditional uses,” he said.

If current trends continue, he added, Greenport will be a vacation spot with few of the types of businesses that thrived there for so many years.

Another threat to maintaining a working waterfront, according to restaurateur Janice Claudio, is that the breakwater has sunk lower and a large storm could end the area’s future. The late Merlon Wiggin, who led the effort to rebuild Bug Light in Orient, raised that warning for years, she said.

Sterling Street resident John Mancini spoke against creating a blanket waterfront development plan that might compromise residential neighborhoods like his.

The consultants are taking that into consideration, Mr. Smith said.

Others argued that if Greenport can avoid becoming little more than a collection of ice cream and T-shirt shops, the basic infrastructure is in place to allow marine businesses to flourish.

A spokesman for North Ferry Company said his organization would love to have its larger boats serviced in Greenport instead of taking them to Connecticut. But Steve Clarke’s Greenport Yacht & Shipbuilding Company, which maintains the company’s smaller ferries, can’t currently accommodate the larger vessels, he said.

With enough trained tradesmen to service them, Greenport could attract many yacht owners who currently take their vessels to Newport, said Donn Constanzo of Wooden Boat Works.

John Costello pointed out that his marine contracting business helps to support others, including North Fork Welding, East End Supply and Mills & Company.

“There’s your infrastructure just in the repairing of boats,” said Mr. Costello, a former Village Board member.

Another blow to the marine industry is the state excise tax, which drives many fishing vessels to Rhode Island or New Bedford, Mass., said Village Trustee Mary Bess Phillips, who owns the fishing vessel Illusion and Alice’s Fish Market with her fisherman husband, Capt. Mark Phillips. She also complained about federally imposed fishing quotas that cripple the industry.

“New York State and the feds have taken away the blue-collar jobs that were available to people,” Ms. Phillips said.

Greenporters have traditionally supported varied uses of land, but with gentrification come complaints about welding, shipyard work, noise from ice machines and similar activities, she said.

Others suggested looking at properties along Route 25 just west of the village where there’s less residential development. That would require the cooperation of Southold Town.

Mr. Smith will be preparing a draft document for the Village Board to consider. At least one more public meeting to outline the consultant’s proposals will be held before the document is finalized, he said.

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