Greenport considering development moratorium; waterfront, commercial zones could be affected

Some Village of Greenport trustees are calling for a moratorium on development in waterfront and commercial zoning districts, citing rapid growth beyond the capacity of village infrastructure and a desire to protect the working waterfront.

Trustees Mary Bess Phillips and Julia Robins each pitched separate land-use moratoriums at a board work session last Thursday. Ms. Phillips said the board should review uses in Commercial Retail zones and discuss creating a “waterfront enhanced zone” for Front and Main street properties that have water views but are “not waterfront.”. She suggested setting a six-month moratorium, with the option of an extension. 

“I’m just concerned that we’re going to lose our working waterfront and I think it’s time that we discussed that and looked at it seriously,” Ms. Phillips said. “Even if it just creates the discussion, I think we should take the time.”

There are properties in the downtown district that have water views, but are not waterfront businesses, she added, noting that the waterfront commercial uses need to be further defined to protect the working waterfront. “They fall into this category of a halfway between a Commercial Retail establishment and falling under the Waterfront Commercial.”

“I see an urgency in us protecting our waterfront commercial properties,” she continued. “That’s where I’m coming from. That’s a specific desire to work towards coming up with some ideas and maybe checking out or reviewing the uses that are within those two codes.”

Ms. Robins, who pitched her own plan, said that in light of several potential developments that could greatly impact the village, Greenport needs to “briefly stop the clock” to establish specific goals and objectives for future development in the CR and WC  districts. The Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan should be updated and the village should develop a comprehensive plan, she said.

According to the state Department of State, “a land use moratorium is a local enactment which temporarily suspends the landowners’ right to obtain development approval while the community considers and potentially adopts changes to its comprehensive plan, and/or its land use regulations to address new circumstances not addressed by its current laws,” Ms. Robins said. 

Mayor George Hubbard pressed her for further suggestions and argued that a comprehensive plan would require hiring a consultant. 

“You’ve been talking about the moratorium for six months,” he said. “I’m wondering if you’ve come up with anything during the past six months that’s going to be constructive to try to move this forward of where we’re going with it instead of just saying moratorium.”

Ms. Robins suggested putting out a request for proposals might be the way to go and said the village has been taking a “piecemeal approach.”

“This village could drastically change in the next two years,” she said. “I personally don’t think we have the infrastructure to deal with all the development that is coming our way right now.”

“We do have the infrastructure for it,” Mr. Hubbard responded. “I know the BID keeps saying that we don’t have it. I don’t know why they keep saying it. I tried to correct the president of the BID on that. I don’t know where he’s getting those comments from, but the infrastructure can handle what we have.” 

Deputy mayor Jack Martilotta pointed out that hiring a consultant to help draft a comprehensive plan would not “happen for years; there’s just no way.” 

“The speed at which government moves is slow. The speed at which the private sector moves is faster,” he said. “People say all the time, we’ve got to update the LWRP. Well, the LWRP — we have one.”

An updated version would not be “drastically different,” he said. 

Trustee Peter Clarke pointed out that the village has a “resource issue,” with only one work session per month and no committees.

“All this stuff that’s piling up that we need to address is not going to go away with a moratorium but it’s also not going to go away with a piecemeal approach. It’s also not going to go away if we continue with the status quo approach,” Mr. Clarke said. “I think, what I’m hearing, is something extraordinary, different and perhaps not done before needs to be thought of.”

Mr. Hubbard added that while a lot of “ideas get thrown out there,” there is no follow-up on plans at work sessions the following month. 

“Everyone here needs to get more involved,” he said. “You got to tell us what it is that you want that to be. Put some homework into it, come up with it. Mary Bess came up with a zone change, trying to split the zone in half. That is the kind of input that we need to have if we’re going to try to do that. Not just saying, you know, moratorium, we’ve got to just halt everything and wait and see what happens and come up with a plan. Well, we need help with the plan. What is your plan? What is the plan that everybody wants to see, to make it different?” 

Ms. Robins suggested reestablishing a village code committee, which Mr. Hubbard said has not been successful in the past. 

“I’m just trying to do things that are productive, not just have meetings to say you had meetings,” he said. “Come up with solid constructive ideas on what you want to do, how we can work on this together and just put together a plan on our own.”

Ms. Phillips said she’s willing to do the work on the Waterfront Commercial and Commercial Retail districts.

“We don’t allow condominiums in our Waterfront Commercial. 123 Sterling was a legal settlement between the residents, the Village of Greenport and the property owner way back when and I don’t want to see anymore of that loss,” she said. “I don’t know how to do that other than to say we need to stop for a few months, do the work, use this as an example that we as a board can move forward on a project or on a code change like this that’s important. That’s where I’m coming from. I’m willing to do the work.”

Mr. Hubbard said the village attorney, who was not at the work session, needs to be looped in on the discussion. 

“We need a specific goal to move forward,” Mr. Martilotta said. “I feel that one of the things we struggle with sometimes is just being specific in what exactly we’re trying to accomplish.”

After the meeting, Ms. Phillips told a reporter she’s working on her own version of what the code should look like for board discussion. The productivity of a code committee depends on leadership, she added. “Whoever the chairperson is has to lead the meeting to come to conclusions and not just let it go on and on.”

“As I asked all the other four of them, is working waterfront important to you? Because it’s us, it’s what the Village of Greenport is. It doesn’t matter whether it’s commercial fishing, boat-building, whatever. People come out here because we are true to our history of trying to protect our working waterfront,” she said.

Ms. Robins told a reporter that she is working on a proposal for the creation of a task force to review village zoning code “within the scope of a moratorium that would go just until the end of this year.” The commission would be made up of trustees and representatives from the village Planning Board, village Zoning Board of Appeals, village Historic Preservation Commission and the village community. Meetings would be both public and on Zoom, with a set timeline. She’s willing to put in the work, she added.

“If we don’t do something to get a grip on the development that’s coming our way here in the village, you know, we’re going to lose it very quickly,” she said. “I personally don’t believe our infrastructure can handle it. I mean, we don’t have a workfroce here anymore. So who’s going to take care of these additional buildings and businesses and the commerce and trucking and parking and all the other things that are gong to come along with them.”