Greenport group presents ideas on safety messaging before larger crowds return to village

Greenport Village is one of the most popular places on eastern Long Island, but how — or if — it regains its old self before COVID-19 struck remains an open question.

Experts have begun to weigh in on ideas such as reducing density in bars and restaurants and popular gathering places and making room for pedestrians keeping social distancing by turning Front Street into a walking mall.

A new set of ideas was unveiled before the Greenport Village Board on Thursday evening during a Zoom meeting. Making the presentation to the board were four full-time residents: Sonia Spar, chairperson of the Anti-Bias Task Force for Southold Town; Sonja Reinholt Derr, director of sales and marketing for Times Review Media Group, the publisher of The Suffolk Times; Cynthia Brennan, a designer; and Margot Perman, a designer and partner in RDA/Real Design Associates, a New York City design and branding firm.

The proposal presented to the board for discussion revolved around messaging that must be in place before restrictions are lifted as part of NY PAUSE and nonessential businesses reopen, bringing with it large numbers of people drawn to the village’s maritime beauty and deep-water harbor.

The form the messages, signage would be strategically placed around the village and stenciled on sidewalks. In short, the signs would focus on social distancing, the wearing of masks, how to avoid areas where bottlenecks are created when people gather or pass by, and the limiting of crowds in popular tourist places. All messaging would be in both English and Spanish.

“We have seen how people have come together in the village and supported the health care workers,” Ms. Perman said. “We are a group that wants to help out. We are communications people and we see a need for information that is communicated clearly. We thought we could do that.”

Via Zoom, Ms. Perman showed a series of signs the group has designed that could be strategically placed around the village and — in the example of social distancing — stenciled on sidewalks. Several board members pointed out that the sidewalks are only five feet wide — one foot shorter than social distancing recommendation.

During the presentation, several board members spoke in support of the messaging. Some wondered how it could be enforced and how much the signs would cost. But overall, the board expressed strong support.

“All of us on the board need to think where the signs should go,” said Trustee Mary Bess Phillips. “We do have some residents who live in busy areas who have pedestrian traffic and they are looking for signage. I think we have a great opportunity to get the message out.”

“The messaging will help the village open safely,” said Ms. Perman. “Knowing our village will swell soon with people, and everyone wants to enjoy the outdoors, but none of us know how to do this yet.”

She said signage will help “engage people and help them take ownership of what comes next. It will also allow residents to move about safely and move about with some normalcy.”

All board members who spoke said they supported the idea and praised the four residents for the work they have done. In interviews after the meeting, Ms. Phillips and Mayor George Hubbard Jr., said they liked the idea, but would need an upcoming board meeting to discuss costs and exactly how it would be carried out and, if done, how it would be enforced.

Both said the signs telling people to stay away from crowds, wear masks and stay six feet apart would be good, but following these instructions would be voluntary. The village currently is under an executive order requiring masks in parks and on sidewalks.

“We will look at the costs of all the signs,” Mr. Hubbard said. “The board has to decide how to move forward. But they did a very good job.”

He added that without additional resources, there would be no way to enforce the instructions on the signs. “Some people will refuse and always will,” he said. “We would be trying to encourage compliance, but some people don’t get that. Code enforcement can’t put people in cuffs and take them away. It would just be an honor system.”

Ms. Phillips said enforcement will certainly be part of the discussion when the board reviews the proposals at a work session next week.

“The key point is how you deal with density,” she said. “Residents have to be protected. It’s a tough call. All the businesses downtown are based on density. If they are expecting to keep the same level of business revenue as before, with the same density, they are not dealing with the reality.”

Both Ms. Phillips and Mr. Hubbard said the messaging needs to get out.

“They put a lot of work into this,” she said. “They were careful and thoughtful about Greenport. This is a great example of residents reaching out and saying we want to help.”