Outdoor shopping and dining in December?
It’s not out of reach for Greenport Village businesses hoping to extend their season as COVID-19 cases continue to tick upwards.
A majority of the Village Board appears to support keeping the popular “parklets” in place through Dec. 31 despite some safety concerns, although officials are still awaiting approval from the state Department of Transportation, which owns the road.
A total of 51 parking spaces along Front and Main streets were traded last spring for 9,000 square feet of additional space that was made available for tables and displays in an effort to help businesses bounce back.
The village Business Improvement District had been advocating for the parklets to remain in place through Dec. 31 to give businesses an added boost during the holidays.
Village Trustee Julia Robins continued to advocate for the extension during last Thursday night’s meeting. “As long as the weather holds,” she said. “Obviously if it gets really bad and people don’t want to be downtown anymore, it’s going to be impossible to eat outside. [The businesses] have the option of calling it at any point.”
But Trustee Mary Bess Phillips said she feels they should come down as scheduled at the end of November.
“December can be a very iffy month,” she said, noting that the parklets may create snow removal issues and other hazards. “There comes a point where safety overrides and I’m just uncomfortable with this going through December 31.”
Aside from weather, Ms. Phillips said she’s noticed a sharp decrease in use of the parklets as temperatures dip down.
“They’re empty most of the time,” she said, though there have been exceptions on unseasonably warm days.
Ms. Robins pointed out that in New York City, where restaurants have already been given the green light to continue outdoor dining setups, the city DOT is requiring additional safety measures to prepare for wintry weather.
According to a list of city regulations released Nov. 13, protective barriers that separate seating from the roadway must be completely filled with soil or sand and the perimeter must include reflective tape and snow sticks.
During active snow alerts, diners may not sit in roadway setups, electrical heaters and overhangs must be removed and, if 12 inches or more of snow are forecast, the setup must be taken down, according to the regulations.
It’s unclear if the state DOT will require similar precautions be put in place in Greenport, but BID president Rich Vandenburgh said Friday that the BID would provide additional support to the village and use independent contractors to assist with snow removal, if that becomes necessary.
He also said the BID could consider removing some parklets that don’t get as much traffic.
Mayor George Hubbard Jr. said he supports the proposal and indicated he’d issue an executive order allowing them to stay in place pending a DOT response, expected before the end of this month.
As officials consider extending the life of the parklets, some business owners have taken a stand against parking problems made worse by the spaces lost in the downtown area.
Mr. Hubbard reported last Thursday that 45 store owners have submitted a petition for the village to allow business owners to park in front of their buildings through a sticker program or similar means.
The petition is not affiliated with the BID, officials said, and calls for leniency since many prime parking spots have time limits. Some business owners said the measure would provide easier access when dropping off materials to their stores, though village officials disagreed.
“I don’t think the store owners should be parking in front of their stores anyway,” Mr. Hubbard said. “It makes it harder for customers to come and get to their stores. We’ve always frowned upon that.”
Instead, board members agreed to hold a future discussion on the issue of loading zones that could help business owners solve that particular problem.