As reopening begins nearly 12 weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, officials in Greenport Village are discussing ways to jumpstart the local economy while balancing health and safety.
During a special meeting held virtually Thursday, the Board of Trustees gave a nod to a proposal unveiled by the Business Improvement District recently to take a step forward.
“We want to get some productive input on this to try to save the downtown area, the village, keep people employed, keep people working. That’s the goal,” Mayor George Hubbard Jr. said.
The board approved a resolution to establish a committee, which is composed of Mr. Hubbard, deputy mayor Jack Martilotta, village administrator Paul Pallas, Greenport BID president Rich Vandenburgh, and Bill and Corey Sharples of SHoP Architects — who were involved in the design of Mitchell Park — to form a unified proposal on moving aspects of the plan forward.
The resolution also authorizes the village attorney to begin communicating with the New York State Department of Transportation on the possibility of changing speed limits, or eliminating downtown parking on a more permanent basis seasonally.
“That’s the next step,” Mr. Hubbard said. “We need to notify officials that we are going to…move it forward.”
In addition, the village board approved a resolution to put up more signage informing people about face coverings and social distancing.
The village is currently experimenting with the idea of eliminating 57 parking spaces on Front and Main streets temporarily to make it easier for pedestrians to comply with social distancing guidelines and possibly allow for restaurants and retail to operate on the sidewalks. Handicapped parking spaces were not closed off under the proposal, officials said.
The BID proposal calls for eliminating the parking from June through October. “This is what it’s going to be like down there,” Mr. Hubbard said, if the plan is pursued. “We want everybody to see it.”
In addition to suspending downtown parking, the BID proposal calls for creating “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.
In response to a request that the BID provide a cost projection for the proposal, Mr. Vandenburgh estimated that between safety barriers, applications, plantings, pathways, ramps for ADA access and necessary signage, the cost could be up to $90,000.
He noted that design and installation has been offered up at no charge and called on the village to partner with the BID to support the project financially.
“We have to rapidly unite,” Mr. Vandenburgh said, to salvage what’s left of a summer season and move forward.
During a press briefing Thursday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone expressed optimism at the idea of outdoor dining to aid local restaurants and provide a level of safety to patrons.
Mr. Bellone said the county would grant automatic approval for restaurants to expand outdoors, since when they are allowed to reopen in ‘Phase Three,’ they’ll only be able to use 50% of their capacity.
“We want to make sure there is nothing preventing restaurant owners from being able to provide that service and get that business activity expanded,” the county executive said.
More than 50 people attended the virtual meeting, mostly members of the public speaking expressing support for the proposal.
“I personally think that the village is a walking village,” said resident Tricia Hammes. “Anything we can do to help support our local businesses is really the key right now. I really hope that we try it all and it works out because I’d hate to see a lot of the small businesses in town have to shut after this summer,” she said.
Jen DiVello, who owns Revel North Fork boutique in Greenport, was critical of the plan she said may deter people from visiting if they have to walk a farther distance to get downtown.
“This is going to make it even worse,” she said, adding that she feels the plan doesn’t evenly aid retail businesses that have been shut down for nearly four months. “Store owners are the ones that have been taking the brunt because we weren’t even allowed to do take-out at first.”
She called for village officials to act on the idea to allow for retailers to sell products outdoors.
One Love Beach owner Chris Dowling suggested increasing the number of short-term parking spots in the Adams Street area to allow for quick turnover as curbside pickup operations continue.
Mr. Hubbard reiterated that this weekend’s parking trial is just an experiment and that the committee will report back to the board before taking formal action on the plan.