Village moratorium decision is delayed as county requests more data

A proposed moratorium on commercial development in three key zones of Greenport Village continues to face an uphill battle to gain approval from the Suffolk County Planning Commission. 

At its Feb. 1 virtual meeting, county commission members questioned the legality of an existing “administrative moratorium” on Greenport Village’s waterfront commercial, retail commercial and general commercial zones imposed by the village in December — and requested additional data and information. The commission staff issued a report in early January recommending commissioners reject the broader moratorium proposal. But commissioners — at least so far — have not turned thumbs down on the village’s request for approval. They have requested confirmation of information presented at the February meeting to assure it is accurate, including the number of applications that have been stopped since the village imposed the administrative moratorium as well as confirmation of the number of businesses operating in the village. 

More than 200 village residents and business owners have signed a petition supporting the moratorium, and despite county skepticism, the village board could ultimately enact a moratorium with a super-majority of four supporting votes, Andrew Freleng, chief planner at the Suffolk County Planning Department, said at the meeting.

Village officials have one month to provide the requested additional information before reconvening for another virtual session with the commissioners.

County planning commissioner Michael Kauffman said the administrative moratorium is “concerning to me” and wants village officials to address the issue of its legality. However, the commission’s attorney, Michael Comacho, said he wouldn’t render an opinion on the legality question. 

Greenport Village attorney Joe Prokop told the commissioners that only two applications are pending, plus one request for the transfer of a business. The first pending application is from a woman seeking a financial hardship exemption for interior construction to her yoga and Pilates studio that is to be addressed this month. The other application is incomplete. The request to transfer a local business to a new owner is moving forward, Mr. Prokop said.

In making the case for a moratorium, Greenport Village Mayor George Hubbard said the village isn’t as seasonal as it once was. It may be quiet in January and February, he said, but by March things start up and become increasingly busy for the rest of the year. Business owners contemplating changes tend to file applications at the end of the summer and through the fall for construction they want to have accomplished by March or soon thereafter, the mayor said. 

Village Trustee Peter Clarke, a principal of Clarke’s Garden and Home, and Kevin Stuessi, a developer, resident and village mayoral candidate who launched the petition seeking a moratorium, said the village needs a “vision.” 

Family businesses are on the market and being replaced by large businesses, Mr. Clarke said. The moratorium is needed to allow time to “craft a vision” of the future of the village in line with its character, he said.

Mr. Stuessi told the county commissioners the village is the only community east of Riverhead certified by New York State as “disadvantaged.” With mom and pop businesses changing hands, it’s critical to “protect what’s important to us,” Mr. Stuessi said. 

The County Commission’s staff report said there hasn’t been an indication the village is being overrun with applications, citing that as another reason why a moratorium isn’t needed. 

Erik Warner, whose Eagle Point Hotel Partners is seeking to build a 22-room inn on the site where Sweet Indulgences operated for years, told the commissioners the process of trying to adopt a moratorium “seemed quite rushed.”

Some county commissioners were sympathetic to that concern. 

“It’s a messy situation,” Mr. Kauffman said, adding that the village is trying to deal “with some kind of threat” and trying to respond before it’s too late to maintain community character.

He convinced his fellow commissioners to “punt” and declare the Greenport proposal “incomplete” — giving village officials a month to clarify open questions before a final vote.

Commissioner Tom McCarthy said he is aware of Greenport’s struggles with growth, but said a moratorium would unfairly step on property owners’ rights.

The Greenport proposal calls for a six-month development moratorium and, if more time is needed, for up to two, three-month extensions, meaning it would be over within a year of its creation, at most.

County commissioners said that if they do approve the moratorium proposal, they would want a meeting within the first three-months to assess progress. Though not pleased with the administrative moratorium in force since early December, there was general appreciation for progress that has been made in one of the aims of its imposition: getting certification of a Local Waterfront Revitalization Program.

That plan was solidified in 1996, with the village updating it in 2014. But the update was not accepted by the state, which had changed its format since the LWRP was filed. It was returned to the village for reformatting but not changed or resubmitted.

Since December, a village committee has been working to reformat the LWRP and assure more changes aren’t required prior to resubmission.

Mr. Hubbard said he anticipated the LWRP can be completed in a relatively short time. Others on the committee are working on reviewing the zoning code to bring it up to date as it has not been reviewed in its entirety in roughly 25 years.

Another group is looking at infrastructure needs, with particular emphasis on parking regulations.