A proposed parking law in Greenport came under fire for a second time at a public hearing last Thursday.
The draft was criticized by the village Planning Board in a six-page memo and two members spoke against the proposed law in a personal capacity at the hearing, along with some business owners. At least one resident spoke in favor of parking changes.
The proposal is meant to address a shortage of parking in the village, according to the most recent draft. If passed, the law would allow the Planning Board to, “when it deems it to be in the best interest of the village,” permit a business owner to pay a fee in lieu of parking requirements.
The Planning Board may grant up to a 10% reduction of parking required based on individual circumstances. The board would be able to allow payment in lieu of parking for up to 20 or 50% of the required spaces, whichever is less.
Off-street parking requirements for premises in waterfront and retail commercial districts would not increase unless there is a change in use, or a 20% expansion or increase in the volume or intensity of use.
Under the proposed fee structure, business owners could pay $1,000 per spot, so long as waived spaces number 10 or less; $2,500 per spot, if between 10 and 30 spaces are waived; and $5,000 per space if more than 30 spots are waived. Collected fees would be placed in a special fund to be used for construction, acquisition or maintenance of public parking facilities.
A previous version of potential changes went up for a public hearing in March. Mayor George Hubbard said last Thursday that discussions initially started about four years ago, when the Planning Board asked for guidance on how to read and enforce the code.
“The Planning Board didn’t feel comfortable with the way the code was written, so we started to try to correct that,” he said. “We also had a couple of trustees who wanted to discuss this whole chapter just because boutiques and stores were turning into restaurants faster than we could control them.”
As the draft is written now, anyone with a business already exempted would not need to pay for parking. If an owner decides to sell their business, and the use and size stays the same, they still would not need to pay for parking, Mayor Hubbard said.
“This is for the intensification of people doing more stuff in a smaller space that was not required before … If it’s a boutique right now and you want to put in a 50-seat restaurant, that would come into play,” he said. “Anybody that has a restaurant or business that’s open right now would not have to pay a nickel on this … We don’t want to harm anybody and I don’t want anybody to lose value on their restaurant … That’s not what we’re doing. If it’s the same thing, different owner, different name, you buy it, what you have it for is still good to go.”
The village Planning Board, in comments on the draft, suggested that Greenport would be better served by changing village code based on an updated Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan and comprehensive plan and suggested clarifying several aspects of the proposed amendments.
“It does not appear that the real intention of the proposed amendments is to even address parking as an issue, but rather to enact a ‘tax’ that would apply to new ‘intense’ uses in the Village and be used to cover maintenance costs associated with Village parking and street infrastructure,” the Planning Board wrote. “[We do] not believe that this approach effectively solves any of the infrastructure issues facing the Village or provides for any additional parking resources — it appears to address a general revenue shortfall for infrastructure maintenance in the Village.”
The Planning Board noted that there are few buildings in the downtown district capable of providing parking and while “some businesses may be willing to throw money at the Village to try and make the problem go away,” payments won’t “address the resulting demands on the Village’s infrastructure or provide more parking to Village residents, and only certain types of businesses will be willing to make that sort of investment.”
Patricia Hammes, a Planning Board member who spoke at the hearing in a personal capacity, noted a few points from the memo were addressed in recent changes to the draft but many others are still relevant.
She argued that interactions between some segments should be cleaned up and requested further clarification on aspects of the proposed law. She expressed concern about transparency as well, and questioned whether people will be treated equally when they come before the Building Department.
Planning Board member Lily Dougherty-Johnson also spoke at the hearing as a village resident. She said while she applauds the trustees for working toward a parking solution, she doesn’t think the proposed amendments will solve the problem.
“You’re not going to stop development, people are just going to have to pay … that means people with deep pockets,” she said.
Rich Vandenburgh, president of the village Business Improvement District, praised the Planning Board’s memo and said their comments did a “tremendous job breaking down the concerns that this law poses not only for individual prospective applicants but also in a kind of global picture.”
He said the village needs a stronger plan for the future, including for how exactly the resulting funds will be applied to parking solutions. He argued that “it’s been suggested that perhaps this is less about parking than it is about trying to slow development in the village and perhaps bolstering the fact that the board is feeling as though the infrastructure is being overtaxed.”
“This law is, in my mind, a classic kind of cart before the horse as far as trying to address a concern that a lot of us may have without a really structured understanding of what the plan would be overall,” he said. “Without a comprehensive plan, this is a piecemeal approach to a problem that we don’t really have the solution at the moment.”
Mr. Hubbard clarified that the law is not “a money grab” or meant to “take care of infrastructure.”
“It never was designed for that. I don’t know who told you that or where you got that information from, but none of us said we’re trying to tax people for parking to pay for sewer, water or anything else. That’s totally not true,” he said. He added that the plan for parking is to convert Moore’s Lane into a “parking hub.”
The village is working on updates to the LWRP and plans to have an updated version ready for public review by August, he added.
“I would say, my request on behalf of BID is, we need to table passage of this law to allow that process to conclude,” Mr. Vandenburgh replied. “It’s not years down the road, it sounds like it’s maybe eight months away.”
John Saladino, a Greenport resident, refuted many of the points made by others at the hearing. He said business properties would not necessarily be devalued and argued that residents are suffering from the influx of tourists seeking parking in the village.
“The people that live in Greenport, the people that live on Main Street and Fifth Street and Sixth Street, I’m not parking at Moore’s Lane. If I got to get to town, I walk there or don’t go there. So it’s not for the majority of the residents’ benefit that these parking lots are being created. It’s for the people that are coming here. Parking is a municipality’s responsibility. But it’s not the residents that are being serviced, and they’re the ones that would have to bear the burden,” he said.
Mayor Hubbard left the hearing open for written comment.