Few attend forum on future development of Greenport

Plotting the future development of Greenport Village wasn’t reason enough to attract more than a few residents to Greenport School last week. The topic was the village’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program and most of the 20 or so people in the room on April 6 were elected or appointed officials.

Mayor David Nyce called the turnout a disappointment but said he hoped others will want their voices to be heard as the process of updating the villages LWRP moves forward.

While many towns and villages view their LWRPs as guides to how their waterfronts can be used, Greenport’s plan, first completed in 1988 and updated in 1998, covers the entire village, Mr. Nyce said. It affects housing, commercial development and even what types of development will need Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and Historic Preservation Commission approvals.

That’s why representatives of VHB/Saccardi and Schiff, hired by the village last year to guide the update, called for the meeting to hear residents’ views on what needs to be preserved and what needs changing.

“Greenport is a little slice of heaven,” VHB consultant David Smith said. He heard from those at the forum that he’s dealing with a contentious community that values those charms. Some said that contentiousness gets in the way of reaching compromises.

Mr. Smith said he wanted to learn the positives and negatives about Greenport.

Greenporters are a hardy bunch of people who don’t want to be over-regulated, former trustee Bill Swiskey said.

Greenport benefits from having its own electric power plant and sewer system and a stock of buildings with great historic architecture, several speakers said. The diversity of the community is a plus, many said.

On the negative side, there’s a lack of year-round jobs and what many view as selective enforcement of codes, according to several speakers. A waterfront that years ago provided all residents with easy access to boating is more restricted today, they said. Too many Greenporters without financial means have little opportunity to enjoy such natural resources, they added. That problem is exacerbated by today’s litigious society. Insurers, for example, don’t want boaters taking local students out onto the water — something that once was a tradition in Greenport — because of potential liabilities.

That the community is increasingly populated by second-home owners poses a challenge to the all-volunteer fire department, Planning Board chairwoman Lara McNeil said.

Foul weather remains a threat around Greenport harbor because so many nearby houses are exposed to flooding.

Commercial development to the west, especially box stores in Riverhead, threaten Greenport merchants, residents said.

And a federally mandated program to protect the waterways from pollution by controlling stormwater runoff is important, speakers said. But they wondered how to pay for it without state or federal aid.

Glory tour boat Capt. David Berson complained that too many entrepreneurs with “hair-brained schemes” seem to think Greenporters are “hayseeds” and the community needs to be wary of letting them get a foothold in the village.

Mr. Smith suggested that “Smart Growth” principals that encourage for more people to live in the downtown area could help support local businesses. But affordable apartments proposed for the southeast corner of Front and Third streets faced intense opposition from residents who said the apartments would cause traffic and otherwise spoil the entrance to the village. Developer Rona Smith, no relation to David Smith, canceled the project.

Another public meeting to elicit more opinions about the LWRP will be held in about three months, Mr. Smith said.

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