Should Greenport B&Bs be allowed to have five rooms?

JULIE LANE PHOTO | It was standing room only for a hearing on Bed & Breakfast regulations in Greenport Monday.

The future of Greenport bed-and-breakfasts could be decided next month following a Village Board discussion on the pros and cons of allowing the businesses to offer five guest rooms rather than the current three.

For two hours Monday night, a standing-room-only crowd peppered the board with complaints about, and defenses of, B&B operations as Mayor David Nyce struggled to keep comments focused only on the guest room number resolution.

“There’s obviously a lot of tempers in this room tonight,” Mr. Nyce said. He warned speakers that he wouldn’t tolerate personal attacks or laughing, hooting, shouting and other disturbances and would have people removed from the room if necessary.

But that didn’t stop many from registering their disagreement with some of the testimony.

The issue for many is whether the change amounts to punishing bad behavior. Harbor Knoll Bed & Breakfast received most of the attention.

For the second successive month, neighbors appealed to the board to stop owner Leueen Miller from hosting weddings and other parties at her Fourth Street inn overlooking Greenport Harbor.

Through her attorney, Gail Wickham, Ms. Miller maintained there is no wedding business. Her husband, Gordon Miller, testified that the idea had been abandoned when they realized “a mistake was made.” But Bay Avenue resident Michael Edelson produced a photograph he said shows a wedding that took place there on Sunday, June 26.

In appealing for the five rooms, Mr. Miller said their home is very large and their children are grown and gone. He said Harbor Knoll could easily provide five rooms and sufficient on-site parking for guests.

Neighbors argued that Ms. Miller had been renting as many as eight or nine guest rooms as well as a separate cottage.
In response, Mr. Miller shot back, “Greenport has the least friendly attitude toward B&Bs.”

The Millers’ daughter, Christine Miller Martin, said she didn’t understand the animosity toward her parents and that a realtor would list the house by describing it as “a magnificent house for large entertaining.”

If Harbor Knoll were owned by a celebrity who gave frequent parties for friends, the noise level and disturbance to neighbors would be far worse than it is for a well-run B&B, Ms. Wickham said.

Following the meeting, she said Harbor Knoll has had no notices of violations and no warnings about its operation. She took issue with those who said they were quoting from the Harbor Knoll website about tributes to Ms. Miller for weddings and other large parties she has catered and for dinner services they said she has offered.

Those were misquotes, Ms. Wickham said, adding that the business has been inspected and would be open to future inspections and to complying with whatever rules the village has in place.

Neighbor Roz Calvert presented a list of questions to the board about whether it’s legal to run another business out of a B&B, whether B&Bs can serve alcohol and how the village is handling code enforcement.

No answers were forthcoming Monday night. But on Tuesday morning village administrator David Abatelli said Ms. Miller has been told she can’t rent a third-floor room to guests and that several notices of violations will be served on her.

Mr. Abatelli couldn’t be reached about specifics of those notices.

Those who favor allowing B&Bs to apply to the Planning Board for permission to expand the number of guest rooms argued that Greenport inns are at a competitive disadvantage to surrounding Southold Town B&Bs, which are allowed five rooms. Others said there is an insufficient number of guest rooms in the village, which negatively affects businesses that would benefit from more tourist traffic.

Fewer B&B rooms could result in more hotels being built in and around the village and those are likely to attract people who would be noisier and less respectful of locals than B&B guests tend to be, others said.

Only one B&B owner, Clayton Sauer of Stirling House Bed & Breakfast on Bay Avenue, argued against the expansion. He charged that there are B&B owners already violating the three-guest-room limit, serving alcohol to guests without a state liquor license and violating neighbors’ rights to peaceful use of their own property.

“Removing glaring items which confirm wrongdoings from websites doesn’t mean the behavior has stopped,” said Mr. Sauer, taking direct aim at Harbor Knoll, which removed ads for its weddings from its website.

This was the second public hearing on the B&B issue. Board members will discuss their views at the July 18 work session and could vote as soon as July 25 to either approve the change or keep the number of legal rooms at three.

[email protected]