Residents oppose parking amendments in Greenport saying they’re ‘anti-business’

Several village residents criticized a proposed local law that would amend parking requirements for businesses in Greenport at a public hearing last Thursday, calling the suggested changes “anti-business.”

The amendment would delete a grandfathering clause that exempts the use, adaptation or change of use of buildings in retail and waterfront commercial districts built before Jan. 1, 1991, from off-street parking requirements. 

The code amendment would also allow the Planning Board to grant a reduction up to 10% of parking on a site or property if the intended use requires less parking than obligated by town code. The Planning Board would additionally be allowed to waive up to 50% of required parking spots or 20 spaces, whichever is less, at the cost of $5,000 each to the property owner.

As code is written now, the Planning Board may require property owners to pay $2,500 per parking space required but not provided. The board is currently able to grant waivers for up to 20 parking spaces. 

The local law is intended to “address the shortage of parking” in Greenport, the draft says. 

Greenport Business Improvement District president Richard Vandenburgh condemned the proposal at the public hearing as “prohibitive and anti-business,” and said BID would not support “such an onerous added expense for development.”

“I think the idea of this change, this law, is not going to be helpful to our downtown village district,” he said. “It really is anti-business for the smaller business” and “certainly the big box, larger chain, deeper-pocket entities that we know exist in other places on the South Fork could probably handle some of the financial impact of such a change in law.”

He said taking advantage of parking waivers while renovating a building “on the verge of being condemned” was a “huge consideration” when he started his own business. 

He questioned how the resulting funds from fees would be spent and said the village should implement measures that would help visitors to the village, such as better signage and clearly designated parking areas.

“The interpretation that we have a parking problem is certainly a hot button item for a lot of different people, a lot of different opinions,” he said. “I would urge the board to hold off, really revisit the idea, what is it that we’re going to do specifically? What is our budget to do what? And what have we accumulated so far? … If you can develop a plan, then you can garner support because everybody understands where the goal is.”

Ian Wile, a local business owner and resident, said eliminating the grandfathering clause would punish “mom and pop businesses” and called it, in his opinion, “one of the most important regulatory cornerstones for the economic vitality and stability of the downtown.” He said removing the exemption would “represent a generational setback” and he wouldn’t have risked starting his own business in the village without the exemption.

“The capital risk just to cover parking is just too prohibitive,” he said. “I think the proposed modifications to this code doesn’t think through some of those unintended consequences. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t create a single parking space. I think it discourages building retention. I think it encourages chains and high-funded development while discouraging small-scale projects.”

Greenport resident John Saladino said he’s in favor of the resolution, but $5,000 per parking spot is “far too much money” and would raise the barrier to entry for small businesses. 

“Maybe this guy cobbled together [enough] to start the business. An additional $50,000 might not be in his contingency fund,” he said. “I think $2,500 is too much … For a small business, a retail operation that has four employees, 1,200 square feet, they need four parking spaces. That’s a lot of money, that’s $20 grand. I just think it’s too much.”

He pointed out that needing so much capital to get off the ground might not be an issue for bigger businesses and argued the Planning Board should be able to sell up to 40 spaces, not just 20. “If they do need it and they’re willing to pay for it, more money in the coffers,” he said.

Greenport resident Chatty Allen said she agrees with Mr. Saladino that $5,000 per parking spot is too much and that the Planning Board should be allowed to waive up to 40 spaces rather than 20. 

“I appreciate the work that’s going into this, we’ve been talking about parking issues forever,” she said. “I personally don’t want to see a parking garage and everyone thinks that if you put one it’s going to be right in the center of the village.” 

In response to questions from another Greenport resident, Mayor George Hubbard Jr. said the funds might be used to improve Moore’s Lane, add a shuttle service and repave the Adams Street parking lot. The village has not gathered estimates for these projects yet and currently has no plans to add another parking lot.

“That money is being used to improve parking lots that we already have or do additional parking lots in the future,” he said.

Correction: Mr. Saladino was initially misquoted saying a small business may need 14 parking spaces, rather than four. The quote has since been corrected.