Greenport Village to discuss zoning of commercial waterfront at special meeting Aug. 4

The Village of Greenport plans to discuss zoning with a focus on commercial waterfront at a special meeting on Aug. 4, trustees said at a work session last Thursday where they discussed the possibility of a building moratorium at length. 

Trustees Mary Bess Phillips, Julia Robins and Peter Clarke pushed for a moratorium on development in waterfront commercial and commercial retail zones until the end of the year to give the village time to revise zoning code, in a continuation of a work session discussion from last month. Mayor George Hubbard and Deputy Mayor Jack Martilotta indicated opposition to pausing development. 

Ms. Phillips emphasized the need to protect a viable working waterfront in the village and suggested creating two separate zones, one for waterfront commercial with access to the water and another for properties that just have a view of the water. 

“I still feel strongly that we need to create a pause for us as the governing body of the village and the policy makers for the code to have the time to clearly put this out, clearly discuss it,” Ms. Phillips said. “I believe the community is looking for it. I know plenty of the residents of the area are concerned that we’re going to lose our uniqueness, because we need to protect a working waterfront.”

She included an outline of proposed code amendments in the work session agenda packet that she presented with Mr. Clarke.

The moratorium would pause any building permit or site plan approvals on new or existing eating/drinking establishments or hotels in commercial retail or waterfront commercial districts, according to the outline. Pending applications that have already had a public hearing or have a scheduled public hearing would continue to be processed but all others would be held until the end of the calendar year, when the moratorium ends. 

Some other suggestions include “revising the conditional, permitted and non-permitted uses within both the CR and the waterfront commercials, to strengthen and guide the long-term plan of the village to achieve the goal of a more vibrant mixed-use district focusing on encouraging year-round business, year-round employment and services and goods that focus more on village and regional residents than just visitors,” Mr. Clarke said. 

He said to try and rush through the revisions without a moratorium “would be too heavy of a pull” for the trustees, and it could take more than a year to implement changes. “This would be a way to take a quantum leap, to use an old term, in our code development governing our business and waterfront commercial districts,” he said. 

Ms. Phillips suggested looking at ways to create residential rental opportunities as well and pointed out the conflict between tourism, year-round residents and the business community. 

“This is something that I don’t think we can all do in one night,” she said. “I have talked to several people who are visitors and families who have come out recently, and we’re a little concerned that we’re losing our identity … as a mixed-use community. A lot of them felt that the business community was overriding the residential community. And I think that we need to just take a really strong look to see where we want to be.”

“I don’t want us to lose our uniqueness. We have always been different. We have always stood our ground. And I think now we need to stand our ground to protect our waterfront commercial property,” she added. 

Ms. Robins pointed out that current zoning code doesn’t address recent development in the downtown business district, where “conditions have changed drastically in the last few years.” She also suggested a moratorium through December, and said the trustees should establish a special task force “charged with making recommendations for amendments to the code.” 

Ms. Robins echoed support for dividing waterfront districts into waterfront view and waterfront commercial, and eliminating hotels, motels, conference centers and restaurants as conditional uses in the waterfront commercial district. She said there should be an emphasis on diverse mixed-use businesses that offer year-round employment and code changes to allow year-round affordable housing above businesses in commercial retail and waterfront districts.

One of her goals is to protect the village from “rampant overdevelopment and accompanying ripple effects that produce cumulative traffic and parking problems,” she said. “I think there’s an urgency here that we need to deal with. There’s a lot coming our way right now.”

She also suggested changing hotels, motels, restaurants, bars, gas stations and repair garages from permitted to conditional use subject to Planning Board site plan review in the commercial retail district. 

Mayor George Hubbard said the idea of two zones in the waterfront district is a good idea but investors have threatened to look elsewhere if a moratorium is implemented in the village.

“To me, the moratorium says Greenport is shut down for business right now. We don’t want anybody investing or coming in here until we figure out what we need to do as a board instead of us just doing our job and getting the job done,” he said. 

Ms. Phillips said she understands that the moratorium could scare off investors, but “we need to put our feet to the ground and we need to take some time out in the next couple of months and move this forward.” 

“And part of the suggestion is that we want control of what type of investors we want here, too,” Ms. Robins added. 

“That’s not the obligation of the village to say, ‘If you want a restaurant, you can’t have it, you can only have a clothing store.’ That’s not what our job is,” Mr. Hubbard argued. “I don’t see how we legally can say we don’t want that business here, we want something else. I don’t see legally how we could do that.” 

“I think we’re talking about guidelines, not prohibition,” Ms. Robins responded. 

Mr. Clarke acknowledged that “moratorium” may have negative connotations for an investor or developer, but creating conditional or non-permitted uses in certain zones does fall under trustee jurisdiction. 

“I don’t want to eliminate development in Greenport’s business district and I don’t want to discourage growth in our community, especially in our business district, but I would like to guide that development into a slightly different direction than the market forces have planned for it now with the current guidelines that we have,” he said. 

He pointed out that the village could structure code “in a way where things that are really beneficial to our community could be exempt,” such as development of the Greenport Auditorium or Arcade.

“The goal is not to just forbid everything but to try and guide that energy into a direction that can keep us more in a steadier state where maybe 45 restaurants is enough for the size of our community and we want to turn the volume or heat down on that, so that we don’t have a situation where when the season is over everything closes and it’s relatively empty, and for people who live here year-round, there’s not much to do other than what the village provides,” he said. 

To tackle code changes quickly without a moratorium would “require some herculean efforts that I’m not sure we have the ability to do,” he added. 

Mr. Hubbard pointed out that, while he’s not promoting hotels, proposals like one that’s currently before the village Planning Board would employ dozens of people year-round in the village. 

“I’m just saying, let them go through the process of what they’re doing and where they’re at,” he said. “It’s a change from what’s there, yes, and change is difficult. But there used to be big buildings all along there that burnt down.”

A moratorium would reflect poorly on the village, Mr. Hubbard added. “If the trustees feel that by having another meeting, and they’ll come to a meeting prepared to talk about just specifics on this, directly on code issues, for three hours, we can do that. But you need to come in with a binder full of stuff of what you actually want to do.”

Mr. Martilotta said he understands creating new zones for the waterfront district, but he doesn’t understand the need for a moratorium. By the time it’s implemented, the village will have a limited amount of time to pass code changes, and considering all proposed changes together would make them more difficult to pass. 

“I think we should pull out one, two things, three things, hammer it out, pass it. Two, three more things, hammer it out, pass it. Because if we try and put a 120-day moratorium up to do all this, get all the public input, make all the changes, give it back to [the village attorney] to get it back to us, review it, et cetera, logistically, it just doesn’t seem feasible,” he said. “I would really, really hate for us to put a moratorium, have these extra meetings, and then at the end of 120 days, not have anything. That’s bad. That is bad.”

“If a moratorium has created the mood or the effort to have more means to get this out and get it going, I’m fine with that. As long as we get it going,” Ms. Phillips responded.

Mr. Clarke suggested establishing a timeline or schedule during the moratorium. 

Attorney Joseph Prokop said villages usually adopt a resolution ahead of a local law implementing a moratorium. The state Department of State has laid out criteria for an enforceable moratorium that includes a reasonable time frame, a valid public purpose, and addressing a situation or burden on the general public that’s not specific to a particular use or owner. It also must “strictly adhere to the procedure for adopting a local law,” he said. 

If the village implements a moratorium, land use regulations need to happen, he added. “If it’s a Dec. 31 determination of the length of the moratorium, you can’t then have a decision on at the December meeting as to which land use changes you’re going to make because you then would have to adopt the land use changes.”

Mr. Hubbard expressed his frustration with holding meetings instead of taking action. He emphasized the need for “concrete plans.” Trustees need to come to the Aug. 4 meeting prepared to talk about what they want to do in the village, he said. 

“Plan on spending three or four hours here. You need time to consume it, digest it, do whatever it is that you need. Come prepared to talk for four hours on specifics of what you want to change and why, and we’ll come up with something from there,” he said.