Greenport residents criticize ‘piecemeal’ approach to zoning

Greenport residents criticized what some called a “piecemeal” approach to zone changes at a public hearing Sept. 22 to rezone Waterfront Commercial properties. 

Several suggested taking a more comprehensive approach to rezoning and some advised setting a moratorium on development, a measure that has been discussed extensively at village work sessions this past year. 

The legislation as proposed would rezone certain properties in the village Waterfront Commercial district to either Retail Commercial or the R1 or R2 residential districts. Around two dozen properties would be rezoned Retail Commercial, including the Menhaden, Greenport Theatre and the Harborfront Hotel. Around seven properties would be rezoned residential, including one belonging to Trustee Mary Bess Phillips.

The proposed legislation would also permit accessory apartments for residential use in the Retail Commercial District. The dwelling units, between 450 and 750 square feet with no more than two bedrooms, would be subject to Planning Board approval and required to provide at least one off street parking space. A section on artist dwellings would be removed from village code. 

A resolution to set the hearing only just passed with a split vote in late August, with “no” votes from Ms. Phillips and Trustee Julia Robins. Ms. Phillips has expressed concern about tackling permitted uses separate from zone changes. 

Mayor George Hubbard Jr. explained ahead of the hearing that the legislation is “still a work in progress” and the village is seeking public input on the proposal. 

“The idea is to save the working waterfront,” he added. “These are the landlocked portions of properties that are in waterfront commercial, but they are not waterfront.”

Several residents at the hearing also criticized the village for not posting a full draft of the law until the day before the hearing, although there had been a general notice about the hearing published in The Suffolk Times on Sept. 1.

“I hope that you’ll be holding this hearing open, because I’m not sure that everybody had an opportunity [to read the legislation],” said Patricia Hammes, a village resident and Greenport Planning Board member. “It seems to me with something this important, people need more than 24 hours notice to make sure they get a chance to review and show up and discuss it.”

“It seems to me that in order to effectively evaluate whether one is in favor of, for or against the proposed rezoning, one needs to understand what will be ultimately permitted or required in respect to those areas,” she said. “By putting additional restrictions or requirements on some of these types of businesses, by approving a rezoning of these without dealing with those issues, you’re effectively creating a situation where you’ve granted a vested property right to a number of properties and certain uses that you may in short are to be seeking to limit and you’re going to give them standing to challenge that.”

Ian Wile, owner of Little Creek Oyster Farm & Market on Front Street, suggested including the zone changes as part of a comprehensive plan, to avoid “tweaking one area and having unintended consequences.” He also suggested reworking the definition of a working waterfront and considering a moratorium with a “sunset date” with the “goal to set about a series of stakeholder meetings.”

Rich Vandenburgh, president of the village Business Improvement District, expressed “deep concerns” about the proposed law and process and said the draft should be rejected as it currently stands. Instead of “piecemeal code changes,” the village should pursue a “sound and thoughtful plan that provides a measured path of growth and success for everyone,” he said. 

“It’s my opinion that this law is too narrow, and void of visionary objectives. It seeks to react to a current state, rather than consider what it is we as an entire village want to be in the years ahead,” he said, adding that viewpoints from stakeholders should have been involved in the process of drafting the legislation.

“It’s not really grounded in good governance, and to seek passage of the law solely for the sake of saying you passed the law really fails to respect every constituent in the village,” he said. “A further and significant step in improving this process would be to finally create a code committee who can lead with these components and helping ensure that the process will be sound and successful.”

Anne Murray, representing the North Fork Environmental Council, echoed his concerns, calling the proposed legislation “short-sighted” and emphasized that there should be more public involvement. She also suggested setting a moratorium to give the village time to put together a comprehensive plan to guide future development in the village.

“I don’t think anyone in this room ever predicted that Greenport would be where it is now. Nobody saw it coming. And you really need to take a step back and think about what you want Greenport to look like 10 years from now, because if you do things piecemeal, like Mr. Vandenberg just said, you’re not going to have a coherent whole,” she said.

A letter from village resident Patrick Brennan emphasized the “profound and lasting impact” the proposed zone changes would have on the village and similarly encouraged the village board to adopt a more comprehensive approach.

“As community leaders, you recognize that the village has again reached an inflection point, and guiding its future trajectory demands attention. Protecting and strengthening the WC district should be the highest priority,” he said, listing several suggestions for the zoning code.  

One resident, whose commercial waterfront property would be rezoned residential, praised the proposal and said she and her husband had attempted to request a rezone years ago.

Some residents also commented on the parking requirement for accessory apartments. “We have a walking problem in this town, in my opinion, not a parking problem,” one said.

The public hearing has been held open and the village board plans to discuss the proposed legislation at next month’s work session.