The Greenport Village Board has agreed to do a trial run of a proposal to temporarily eliminate some parking on Front and Main streets in order to increase the size of the sidewalks and possibly have food, beverages and retail available on those sidewalks.
The increased sidewalk size will also make it easier for pedestrians to comply with spacing restrictions imposed by the state as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The sidewalk proposal is a recommendation of the Greenport Business Improvement District, whose president made a presentation at the village board’s work session Thursday night.
“The impact of COVID-19 on our business community and the livelihoods of our residents and community as a whole has been devastating,” BID president Rich Vandenburgh said at the work session, which was held at the Third Street Firehouse.
The meeting was closed to the public, but was shown live on the village website and the public was allowed to send in questions. Trustee Julia Robins participated by phone while the other four board members were present but spaced six feet apart.
“Greenport Village is a highly sought after destination location and typically enjoys large crowds of visitors, tourists, and patrons who enjoy all that our village has to offer,” Mr. Vandenburgh said.
But he added that “the health impacts of COVID-19 have also been significant and will remain for the foreseeable future.”
The BID put together an advisory panel of property owners and residents to get opinions and ideas on how to respond to the “new normal,” he said. The advisory panel, called BIDAP, is now preparing for the increase of visitors to the village as Memorial Day approaches, he said.
“The simple fact is that we have a spatial issue in the immediate downtown village,” Mr. Vandenburgh said. “In other words, there is not enough space to fully accommodate a perfect return to business life as was enjoyed last year and last season.
“Moreover, time is running short to prepare as the phases of un-pausing occur … The key to creating an improved spatial environment will be to rapidly execute steps within the Village Administration’s control.”
Mr. Vandenburgh said the mayor’s ability to exercise executive order powers under the state of emergency can expedite the success of any plan or preparation as outlined in state law, by not having to comply with requirements for public hearings.
“A prolonged process of public hearings, comment periods and inaction only delay the ability to implement a plan for success that respects the economic security of its business community as well as the health and safety of those visitors who arrive in our village,” Mr. Vandenburgh said. “So timing is precious in this situation.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday expressed optimism toward Long Island soon beginning Phase 1 of the reopening, which would include some curbside retail. Restaurants, which can currently offer takeout and delivery, would fall under Phase 3.
The BIDAP is suggesting that the village suspend on-street parking through Oct. 15 for several areas along Front and Main streets other than handicapped parking spots and curbside pickup locations.
The areas suggested for removal of parking spaces are as follows:
• The east side of Third Street from the ferry to Front Street
• Front Street all the way to Main Street
• The west side of Main Street, from Claudio’s to Front Street
• Both sides of Main Street from Front Street to Park Street
The plan also calls for closing First Street south of Front Street — an area known as Texaco Alley — to both vehicular traffic and parking.
See the Greenport Parklet Study:
A total of 57 parking spaces on Front and Main streets would be temporarily eliminated under the proposal.
The closed parking spots would then be improved as pedestrian walkways and would provide additional limited areas for outdoor retail spaces, according to the plan.
Bill and Corey Sharples of SHoP Architects — who were involved in the design of Mitchell Park — have agreed to design the proposed area at no charge, Mr. Vandenburgh said.
They have submitted a plan for “Greenport Parklets” in some of the areas where the parking would be removed.
The parklets would involve putting tables and chairs in spaces where parking was removed, and barriers to separate the areas from cars. The BID also is recommending reducing the speed limit in these areas to 15 mph. The sidewalk in some areas would be increased from 12 feet to almost 20 feet, Mr. Vandenburgh said.
“It’s all but certain that New York State is going to diminish the interior occupancy of businesses,” when the lockdown ends, Mr. Vandenburgh said. “People are not going to want to be inside. They are going to want to be outside whenever possible, so we need a plan to create greater outdoor space.”
Mr. Vandenburgh said if they have support from the village and the state Department of Transportation to move forward they can complete the project is about four weeks.
Mayor George Hubbard Jr. asked if the BID has cost estimates for the proposal. Mr. Vandenburgh said the BID hopes to have that by Thursday, May 29.
“I like this better that the other proposals I’ve heard,” Mr. Hubbard said, referring to a petition calling for eliminating cars from Front and Main streets.
“We don’t want a Maritime Festival every weekend,” he said.
With Thursday’s meeting approaching four hours, Trustee Peter Clarke pressed the rest of the board to discuss the proposal and decide if they want the BID to continue to examine the idea. He said the state probably won’t allow restaurants to reopen for indoor dining for four to six weeks, so there is time.
“To do nothing would be a mistake,” he said. “Time is of the essence.”
Trustee Mary Bess Phillips asked why the tables aren’t closer to the stores and further from traffic. Ms. Clarke, a former BID president, said the concern is to have the customers close to the stores. Trustee Julia Robins said she feels the BID should have an alternate plan as well.
Village attorney Joe Prokop said the village could — either by an executive order of the mayor or a zoning change ‚ allow businesses to have outdoor seating.
“Is everyone in favor of doing away with some of the parking on Front and Main street?” Mr. Hubbard asked. “That’s the first step.” Everyone responded yes.
“We’ve got to decide something if we’re going ahead with this,” he said.
He said he didn’t want to have a whole discussion and then learn that board members opposed eliminating parking. He said he will work with village administrator Paul Pallas to set up a trial run to close the roads to traffic on an upcoming weekend, from Friday to Sunday.
The public would be notified in advance that the trial was being done, he said. The village would use orange barrels to close off the parking spaces.
“Let’s just see what it looks like, and if it helps anybody,” he said. “We need to know if it’s going to work before we talk about them building something and making it permanent.”