Editorial: Greenport should renew parklets for another season

The parklets in Greenport Village began in the summer of 2020 to help Main Street and Front Street businesses recover from the severe economic damage inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those parklets allowed for streetside dining and shopping and brought a lively outdoor atmosphere to the village. They helped businesses recover and strengthened the local economy.

For these reasons, the Greenport Village trustees should support the application of the Business Improvement District for the parklets to return for one more season. Fee structures paid by businesses to the village are also being discussed. As former Greenport mayor David Kapell said in a letter to the trustees, the parklets “have proven to be a major enhancement of our village and are worthy of permanence.”

He’s right, sort of. But that’s not all there is to the story and “permanence” is a far different issue than renewing them for one more season. 

The downsides to the parklets are the loss of parking spaces on Front and Main streets — in a village that already has a parking problem — and that detours to accommodate the parklets have made parking matters worse and caused visitors to drive down residential streets and park blocks from downtown.

It is not unusual during summer weekends to see families parking well north of Front Street and walking with their children and pushing baby carriages down residential streets to the carousel.

Those trustees who have brought up these objections to the parklets are correct. Quality of life in a small village means government should look out for the interests of homeowners on residential streets as much as the economic concerns of downtown businesses. One group’s interests should not trump another’s. 

But we tilt in favor of renewing the parklets for one more season for the reason they were installed in the first place: COVID-19. A headline in a recent New York Times story read, “Another Covid surge may be coming. Are we ready for it?”

The story went on to say: “In a number of countries, including Britain, France and Germany, case numbers are climbing as an even more contagious subvariant of omicron, known as BA.2, takes hold.” It is true that the U.S. follows British trends a few weeks later. 

As omicron came here and case numbers spiked, it’s a safe guess the new variant could rear its ugly head here as well. If it does, the issues will be the severity of the variant and the measures with which the government will respond — this in a country where critics of vaccine and mask mandates are angry and think their freedoms are under assault.

Some supporters of renewing the village parklets point to the example of Riverhead Town, where streetside dining was also allowed after the pandemic struck. The town is moving towards making this permanent.

But comparing downtown Riverhead to downtown Greenport is comparing apples and oranges. Traffic and parking issues and the impact on residential neighborhoods are fundamentally different. 

The reason to renew the parklets in Greenport Village for one more season is to give businesses another year of economic stability and to help them catch up on previous losses. But it is also to be prepared if Covid-19 numbers begin to rise again. 

In an attractive and historic village, where many interests should be considered by government before critical decisions are made, the trustees don’t owe downtown businesses anything beyond that.