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Village Board, citing parking, traffic, votes down parklets returning in 2022

Greenport Village trustees voted unanimously against the return of parklets at Thursday’s regular board meeting. 

Mayor George Hubbard Jr. emphasized after the vote that trustees are not “against business” and said the board is willing to work on other ideas and concepts with the Greenport Business Improvement District. At a work session last week, trustees had expressed concern about safety, traffic and parking spilling into residential areas. 

“It was really just a matter of detours, traffic, and I heard a lot more people say they’d rather get back to normal than they would have the parklets up there,” Mr. Hubbard said Thursday. “In no way is the village board voting against our businesses … We want to work with everybody here, we want Greenport to be a great place. The parklets have run their course.”

The parklets were introduced in 2020 to help local businesses stay afloat during the pandemic by providing expanded outdoor seating and returned for the 2021 summer season.

The BID had presented a plan for future implementation of the parklets to village trustees at past board meetings this winter, suggesting a fee structure that would be split between the village and BID for parklet maintenance. Business owners turned out at public meetings and sent letters to village trustees supporting the parklets ahead of Thursday’s vote. 

In an email to BID members after the meeting, president Richard Vandenburg said the village’s decision “lacks vision and thought leadership.” He thanked those that offered support and said he hopes to continue to collectively “advocate for positive and visionary changes for the better.”

At previous village meetings, Mr. Vandenburgh had pointed to Southold police statistics that showed a 50% decrease in accidents along streets with parklets and emphasized a 2021 survey that indicated, out of 900 respondents, most favored the measure.

“I appreciate the challenges that this board has faced with in making decisions that they believe, in their heart of hearts, is the right decision,” he said ahead of the village vote on Thursday. “But I think strong leadership also requires really clear vision, a vision that ultimately has to suss through negative opinions, perhaps opinions that don’t necessarily offer alternatives … I think visionary leadership has to be able to challenge the norm. You have to be able to challenge the norm and stand apart from the shadow of doubt.”

He cited a study from the Rauch Foundation that indicated that Greenport’s parklets helped the downtown area recover from the pandemic. 

The study, published in April 2021, notes the village “was able to leverage popular food and beverage businesses and parklets to reattract customers” and demonstrated a larger increase in storefront visitation in October 2020 than the other nine downtowns included in the report.

Greenport Mayor George Hubbard Jr. at Thursday’s meeting. (Credit: Brianne Ledda)

Several Greenport business owners and residents spoke both for and in favor of the parklets at the village meeting ahead of the vote as well.

Peter Harris, a Greenport resident, said the parklets served “a very great need” for businesses during the pandemic but use declined during the second year and he thinks it’s time for “Greenport to get back to being Greenport.”

“I will tell you as a grandfather that took his grandson almost every day, and to walk down to that village seeing the masks, seeing the garbage, seeing the snooty people that were coming to Greenport to be able to sit outside and wine and dine themselves at the expense of the common person,” he said. “I just think it’s time that Greenport get back to being what Greenport used to be.”

Randy Wade, another local resident, advocated for bringing the parklets back another year, citing the “wonderful lively atmosphere” and emphasizing that many people are still uncomfortable eating inside. 

Business owner Linda Kessler similarly spoke in support of the parklets, emphasizing the “vibrancy” they brought to the downtown area.

“The parklets originated out of the pandemic but had grown into a positive, healthy outdoor space that encourages both the community and visitors alike to share Greenport’s uniqueness. We now stand out from our neighboring towns and embrace a walking village,” she said. 

Ms. Kessler also pointed out that experts have warned of a new COVID strain and pandemic measures, while lax now, may still return. 

“It’s whatever makes people comfortable right now, but people do enjoy sitting outside,” she said. “Businesses are still recovering and one positive thing that I see on Front Street is that the parklets slow down traffic. They have totally discouraged U-turns that I panic about every day. I have seen them jump sidewalks, I see parents with strollers, older people trying to back up out of the way.”

Emily Demarchelier, another Greenport business owner, said the parklets both make the village safer and more attractive to locals and visitors. 

Chatty Allen, a local school bus driver, emphasized that she’s not in favor of the parklets returning this year, while acknowledging the ongoing pandemic. 

“Last week it was brought up, us against them. That’s how this is being portrayed. A lifelong resident who has safety issues that does not feel that they need to go up this year,” she said. “Doesn’t mean that I said COVID is over. Doesn’t mean that I said that people don’t still feel comfortable going into a restaurant to eat. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop supporting the businesses. You can do takeout to still help the business.”

She pointed out that locals were the ones who supported businesses through takeout during lockdown, not tourists, and yet “we’re the bad guys.”

“We’re the ones that get the negativity thrown at us because we raise concerns about our first responders,” she said. At last week’s work session, she had emphasized several ways the parklets may increase risks for first responders. 

“There’s pros and cons for both. But for the board to be told, do the right thing, do what you did when we went into lockdown. Things have changed since then,” she said. “You need to do what you feel is right and if you do vote for these again, I really hope it’s put in there that every single business that has a parklet has to go back in front of the Planning Board, because they’re increasing their space.”

Ms. Allen also pointed out that capacity restrictions have been lifted and criticized BID’s proposal to take half the parklet fees.