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Greenport Planning Board absences causing building application delays

Greenport Village Hall

The Greenport Village Planning Board hasn’t met in nearly three months thanks to a resignation and because two members have been out of town, said Mayor George Hubbard Jr.

As a result, the village is seeking a volunteer to fill the board vacancy as soon as possible.

“It’s more than just putting people on the board,” Mr. Hubbard said. “You want people with a background in building or architecture or engineering. To have a whole board that has no idea about the engineering process is difficult.”

Since January, the Planning Board has met just once. Work sessions scheduled for Jan. 28, Feb. 4, Feb. 25 and today, March 31, were all canceled. A March 3 regular meeting was also nixed.

The meetings were canceled because the five-member board couldn’t muster the minimum of three members needed to constitute a quorum, which is required to make a meeting valid.

Some applicants say the cancellations have affected their projects.

James Olinkiewicz, for instance, had hoped to begin work on his proposed restaurant at the former Meson Ole building in Greenport last month. If all went well, he figured, the new eatery could be ready to open by the summer season.

Now, he says, he’ll have “no chance.”

“I lost the whole season for the building,” Mr. Olinkiewicz said this week.

Mayor Hubbard noted that Mr. Olinkiewicz’s application was filed earlier this month; Mr. Olinkiewicz said previous applications had been bounced back by the planning department, but that his application was accepted in March.

The Planning Board has had attendance issues in the past. In 2012, the entire board was replaced after every member, unable to attend meetings regularly, resigned.

The mayor said Planning Board member Chris Dowling spoke to him last year about resigning but agreed to stay on while the village tried to fill the vacancy. Mr. Dowling finally resigned last month. Another member, Pat Mundus, has been out of town for the winter. Members Bradley Burns and Peter Jacquet have also been unavailable at times.

“It’s certainly an issue,” said board chairman Devin McMahon. “It’s difficult to find people who are willing to serve, who are able to serve and who have an unbiased [view].”

Mr. McMahon joined the board three years ago when he was invited to volunteer by then-chairwoman Linnea Atkinson-Loveless, who resigned a year later.

“I really didn’t have any particular interest in joining the board, but I did volunteer work in Greenport over the years,” Mr. McMahon said. “I’ve lived in the village my whole life. I care about the village. I want to do whatever I can to make sure people have the opportunity to speak their minds and be heard and have an honest and open discussion about what’s best for the village.”

Mr. McMahon is hopeful that a new member will be found soon. Mr. Hubbard said he’s approached to several community members about the open position, but no one he deems suitable has expressed interest.

“Everybody’s busy,” the mayor admitted. “They’ve got stuff to do.”

Mr. Hubbard expects a volunteer to step forward before the board’s organizational meeting Thursday, April 7.

“It keeps getting prolonged and postponed,” said Brian Villanti, who operates Agave restaurant on Front Street and is seeking Planning Board approval to update signage and uses on his property. “I’d like to put it behind me.”

Mr. Villanti said that at the end of January, he cut his Florida vacation short by eight days to make it to a Planning Board meeting. That meeting was canceled after he returned.

Mr. Olinkiewicz said he’s worked previously with local governments, including Greenport Village. He proposed allowing Planning Board members to participate in meetings via teleconference, but noted that waiting for planning and zoning boards to reach decisions about applications just comes with the territory.

For Mr. Villanti and Mr. Olinkiewicz, the opportunity to operate their businesses in Greenport is ultimately worth the delay.

“I love Greenport. I love the village,” Mr. Olinkiewicz said. “You deal with it and move ahead and go with it.”

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Photo: Greenport Village Hall. (Credit: The Suffolk Times, file)

Clarification: The story has been updated to reflect Greenport Mayor George Hubbard Jr.’s response to claims that applicants had their proposals delayed by the Planning Board, as well as further comment by Mr. Olinkiewicz.