Some Greenport Village trustees indicated they are likely to vote against the return of parklets, despite requests from business owners for the pandemic-era dining plan this coming season. Others expressed hesitance about the proposal at a work session last Thursday.
The Greenport Business Improvement District has been organizing support for outdoor dining, arguing for a walkable village and a measure that helped many businesses stay afloat during the pandemic. Several business owners spoke in favor of the parklets at the work session.
Village trustees said several residents have complained about the parklets, mostly citing safety and traffic and parking spilling into residential areas. Other residents at public meetings have criticized BID’s proposed fee structure and complained about loud music and garbage spilling into the streets.
The BID submitted a proposed parklet plan to village trustees that, among other things, suggested charging $350 per parking spot for food and beverage locations and $250 for retail. Half the fee would go to BID for installation, removal and maintenance.
“I have heard from quite a few of the residents that they understood during the COVID time period, they understood the businesses’ concern about surviving, but … some people feel it’s a public roadway that some are expanding their site plan to include more customers on a public property,” said village trustee Mary Bess Phillips.
She said a village-sponsored parking study from 2009 indicated each parking space generated around $500 a day for a business in that area, and the fee proposed by the BID is “a little low.” She also said she’s concerned about diverting traffic into residential areas.
“I understand but it’s time to think of other ways to slow traffic down on Main and Front Street,” she said. “I am not in favor of parklets this year.”
Trustee Julia Robins said she’s conflicted over the decision. Her biggest concern is safety, not parking.
“I’ve been living this for several years now with BID, obviously, and I’ve certainly heard both sides,” she said. “I have difficulty seeing how people are comfortable and safe sitting behind a barricade of 8-by-8 timbers that are basically screwed together. I sat in a parklet once, had a conversation with somebody, and I remember being alarmed when I saw a big tractor trailer sort of coming right at me.”
On the other hand, she said she understands why businesses want the parklets back, although she pointed out that sidewalks were still crowded even with parklets.
“I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around moving ahead with it again this year. I definitely understand the argument of the vibe, the vibrancy and feeling of open space. I think as a more comprehensive long range plan, that we should look into widening sidewalks down there and working maybe with the [Department of Transportation] to figure out ways to increase more spaces on the roadway,” she said.
Trustees Peter Clarke and Jack Martilotta were not present at the work session, but Mr. Clarke wrote comments included in the evening’s agenda packet indicating that he’s not in favor of the parklets.
He wrote that if they are approved, they should be restricted to only businesses that do not already have outdoor space, Route 25 should not detour onto Front Street in either direction, the construction should have better aesthetics and businesses should commit to operating within the designated parklet at least five days a week and eight to 10 hours a day.
“This was a request I made last year that was not followed,” Mr. Clarke wrote. He also said that, “rather than ask for a rental fee that is probably not legal since the property does not belong to the village, simply institute an administrative fee of $500-$1,000 in order to cover the village’s costs.”
He said he’s heard disparate opinions from many residents and BID members on the parklets and suggested considering infrastructure improvements, such as widening sidewalks, in the future.
“For the past two years, it was an important initiative to add a safety net to many of our businesses,” he said. “I also found that increased space did add vitality and increased pedestrian activity. However, for this year, I do not see the need.”
Mayor George Hubbard Jr. said it’s a “very hard decision.” He indicated he’s heard both sides of the argument and said the village received 10 letters on the parklets earlier that day.
“I had a resident say to me, ‘You know what, for $350, I’d like to rent a parking spot for myself for the summer so I always have a place to park,’ and they’re willing to pay for that and have a parking spot for themselves. And I can’t say I disagree with them,” he said.
Ms. Phillips said that, since part of the BID’s proposed plan has requested implementing the parklets for the next five years, the village should also consider whether they override the goals in the village’s local waterfront revitalization plan.
The board plans to vote on the issue at its upcoming meeting. At the end of last Thursday’s work session, several village residents spoke on the parklets, mostly in favor, although a few criticized the plan to bring back the structures.
Business owner Sarah Phillips said she’s not for or against the parklets, but questioned whether the parklets will become a yearly question or a permanent plan. She also said she intentionally chose to create a business with outdoor seating and said redirected traffic has impacted both her business and Greenport residents.
“The same businesses that were not allowed to expand due to lack of parking will now be given extra seats that they once requested but at no extra cost,” she said.
She added that it’s already difficult to receive deliveries and, in the end, she would “support the parklets if I saw a management plan and expectations agreed upon for use of space, as well as a long term plan to resolve parking to encourage animation of our entire downtown footprint.”
Several business owners argued that the pandemic is not over and many people still don’t feel comfortable eating inside.
Deborah Rivera-Pittorino, owner of the Greenporter Hotel, said she favors the parklets even though she does not need one herself.
“I’ve run a restaurant in the past and profits come down to pennies. I don’t know if any of you have had that experience but it’s a very tough business,” she said. “Our customers at the hotel are still extremely concerned [about the pandemic]. They call and reserve because they can access the guest rooms from the outside, not through a public corridor, and many of our guests sit on terraces, even in the wintertime.”
Andrew Werts, owner of Ellen’s on Front, argued that the extra money generated in the village by parklets stays in the village, as business owners hire locals and purchase more from local farmers and shops. He added that the parklets have helped generate revenue to pay down the debt from starting his restaurant, which opened about eight months before the outbreak of the pandemic.
Marc LaMaina, owner of Lucharitos, said in an email to BID members that the parklets are great for business, walkability and creating “an open and inviting downtown community.” A parklet for him means the difference between closing or remaining open during the winter.
“This winter has been terrible for our restaurant. Most likely we will close January to March next year. The parklets being here this summer could give us the added revenue … to stay the course [for] winter 2023,” he said.
Rich Vandenburgh, president of BID, said he was “perplexed” on why the village trustees seemed to have made up their minds before hearing the public speak at the meeting.
“We are perhaps at a crossroads,” he said. “Where do we see the vision for our village? … Are we willing to embrace a vision where we would like to see a village that has more of an enhanced or vibrant walking area that brings vibrancy to our downtown area, that brings the opportunity for random engagement, greater social diversity, opportunities to shop at stores?”
He pointed to a survey that BID conducted in 2021 with 900 respondents. More than 500 said they were a resident, business owner or employee in the village and 232 said they were a business or employee in the village.
Mr. Vandenburgh said 59% said the parklets were valuable to keeping businesses going; 86% said they created a lively and vibrant atmosphere; 80% used a parklet; 71% said it was not difficult to find parking; 83% said they’d like to see them return; and 86% said the parklets were helpful to the village.
“I think it’s hard to make a decision based upon anecdotal, perhaps specific, regular voices that are opposed to an idea that’s forward thinking to say that they should not return,” he said. “Beyond the fact that we have these survey results, we also received accolades and recognition from visitors, patrons, state and county officials, and community organizations about the innovative thinking and the courage of action that this board ultimately took on and made the idea a tangible reality.”
He estimated that this year, there would be around 40 parklets.
Mr. Vandenburgh said according to the Southold police, there were 25 accidents on parklet-designated streets in 2019 and 12 in 2021, after they were implemented. “Empirical data tells me that they are safer,” he said.
“[The parklets] will generate fees for the village, actual dollars, not intangible estimates, but actual dollars, and those fees will increase year to year,” he said. “The loss of these few spaces for a third of the year should not be the trump card that results in their denial. I urge the board to return to the time and place where it embraced the vision and exercised the courage in allowing these parklets to be a valuable building block for the future of our village.”
His speech was met with applause, but was immediately followed by an impassioned speech against the parklets from a Greenport resident.
Chatty Allen, a local bus driver, said the parklets pose several safety issues. Many use cinder blocks, which could impede first responders, she said. Plus, it’s easier for first responders to move between two parked cars than around a wooden structure.
Additionally, the Greenport School District ran programs this past summer for students because of the pandemic, she said. As a bus driver, she had to block streets because students couldn’t get to the sidewalks due to the parklets.
“As far as the accidents that happen, yes, it would have been cars or the parklets that were hit. To me, those accidents weren’t caused because there were parklets there, they were caused by people who decided to drink and get behind the wheel of a car. And I thank God that it was in the evening when nobody was in the parklets, because if someone had been sitting there, and cars went into them, not a good thing,” she said.
She pointed out that local residents supported businesses during the lockdown, not tourists. She also said she personally struggles to walk, “so as far as telling people they can walk, that’s a slap in the face to people of an older generation especially, because I’m now considered elderly.”
She pointed out that many of the respondents to the BID survey were business owners or employees so “of course they’re going to be in favor.”
The BID says parklets occupied a total of 51 parking spaces in 2020 and 55 in 2021. The business organization anticipates around 40 would be requested for the upcoming season.