Village board unanimously adopts pause in waterfront development

After months of talking and delays, the Greenport Village Board Friday night unanimously adopted what Mayor George Hubbard Jr. characterized as an “administrative moratorium” that will immediately result in a pause on further development in the waterfront commercial, retail commercial and general commercial districts.

The aim is to use a period of six months with an option to extend it to a full year to take steps to update the Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP) and make zoning changes that can determine how the village develops for the next 10 to 20 years, or more.

Residents and business owners have twice in less than a week packed the Third Street Firehouse to make their concerns known and demand a pause in development they have seen as helter skelter and that one resident in a letter to the Village Board said has resulted in anger, fear and panic.

The eventual plan won’t please everyone, but no plan is not the way to proceed, speakers generally agreed.

The administrative moratorium is to be codified in a new chapter of Village law. The next steps involve a public hearing on the full resolution to be held on Dec. 22, followed by submitting it to the Suffolk County Planning Commission. The Commission has up to 45 days from receipt of the proposal to provide a letter back to Village officials, either declaring the matter is entirely one for local decision-makers or a letter with comments that could lead to changes.

If the matter is one of local determination, the Village Board is then free to vote to adopt the resolution and submit it to the New York State Secretary of State at which time it is officially a new Village law.

The administrative moratorium enables the immediate stop in development and appointment of a Waterfront Advisory and Planning Committee to begin work on changes in the LWRP and zoning.

Although the resolution calls for a seven-member committee, Mr. Hubbard agreed at the request of speakers to expand it to about 15 members to assure residents and business operators are participants in the process.

Under the resolution, members will include the mayor and a trustee or, alternatively, two trustees without the mayor. It will also include members of the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and Historic Preservation Commission along with community members, at least one of whom needs to be a Village property owner.

The original resolution called for the option of including nonvoting alternates, but with the larger committee, Mr. Hubbard agreed to appoint as many as 15 voting members.

The Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and Village Board are being restrained by the moratorium from taking any applications affecting properties in the three commercial districts, or issuing any new permits or certificates of occupancy. There is a provision for exceptions. They would apply on a case-by-case basis to situations where a building or demolition permit is needed “to cure or remove a hazardous condition;” to prevent damage to or loss of a property; or is needed for a minor alternation that won’t change or expand the use of the property.

Kevin Stuessi, the man who carried the petition to residents and business owners, collecting more than 200 signatures favoring a moratorium, told the Village Board that Greenport is the only municipality on the East End considered a disadvantaged community because of its makeup of diverse residents. Accordingly, the Village can seek and be expected to receive grants that can be useful in revitalizing its working waterfront, he said, urging the Board not to give up on that concept.

Prior to the vote to implement the administrative moratorium, several other speakers took to the podium, all but one in support of a moratorium.

Lifelong resident and former Village utilities chief Bill Swiskey insisted there is no reason for a moratorium, maintaining there is no longer a working waterfront in the Village. Others cited ongoing  marine activities that still exist and the need to encourage more marine-related businesses.

Mr. Swiskey couldn’t gain traction with his insistence that the moratorium is “a silly idea.”

He also charged Trustee Julia Robins with working with proponents of a moratorium to draft her own resolution. She told him her draft, which was subsequently incorporated into the resolution written by Village Attorney Joe Prokop, was the product of studying similar laws in effect in other towns and villages.

Others commented on some changes they would like. The suggestions included: 

• Hiring a professional planner to guide the process instead of using volunteers

• Granting exceptions for residents whose properties are in the three affected districts so they could still make changes to their houses and/or accessory buildings during the moratorium

• Creating affordable housing so workers can afford to live in the Village

• Concentrating on saving what’s left of the working waterfront and expanding maritime jobs

Before concluding the meeting Friday night, Mr. Hubbard asked that people send him emails with specific ideas of how they would like to see the waterfront areas developed.