Incoming Greenport Village Mayor Kevin Stuessi said in an interview last week that he aims to lift restrictions on development in the village’s commercial zones by Labor Day.
“My goal is to complete the work with proposing updates to our zoning code and bring [those updates] in front of the community in the next sixty days, and then to have an update to the [Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan] ready to submit to the state — and lift the moratorium — by Labor Day.”
Mr. Stuessi, who was interviewed jointly with incoming village trustees Lily Dougherty-Johnson and Patrick Brennan, declined to address the existing administrative moratorium because it was passed by the previous village board. The incoming candidates assume office on Monday, April 3.
Yet he said he hopes to “lift the pause in development” by the end of the summer. He also declined to address questions about the legality of the controversial administrative moratorium.
“We’re not yet in office and haven’t spoken to counsel about it, but specifically as it relates to a moratorium, the goal is to get one in place, to deal with the pause in development, and get our codes updated.”
Last December, Greenport’s Village Board unanimously passed a resolution to create an administrative moratorium that bans development in the village’s commercial zones, while simultaneously submitting plans to the Suffolk County Planning Commission to enact a formal, six-month moratorium. In any form, the moratorium is meant to allow the village time to update its Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan.
Mr. Stuessi said he aims for the incoming board to submit its final changes to the LWRP to state officials by the end of the summer.
County planning commissioners have been critical of the village’s plan but have yet to issue a formal ruling on it. At least two notices of claim – the first step in filing a lawsuit – have been filed against the village over the administrative moratorium by developers whose projects have been halted.
Asked how specifically they intend to address a balloting controversy that threatened to keep all three candidates off the ballot over a paperwork error before a compromise was reached, the incoming board members said the question was premature.
They each declined to say whether they intend to retain or dismiss current Greenport Village Clerk Sylvia Pirillo and Village Attorney Joseph Prokop — the two village administrators at the heart of the election controversy.
“No staffing decisions have been made yet,” Mr. Stuessi said, with Mr. Brennan agreeing that “it’s premature at this point to talk about people going or staying. We’ll need to investigate, and we’ll move on from there.”
The incoming board members do, however, intend to hire an independent committee to investigate what happened, study previous elections and recommend best practices for village elections going forward.
“From all the public discourse around the election controversy I think there’s an expectation that we will work to restore the election integrity,” Mr. Brennan said. “I’d like to see more community oversight. I’d like to potentially bring in outside counsel to help us — and we may need to investigate. Ultimately, I’d be most interested in lessons learned, and seeing how we could use that information as we move forward, so the public is confident in the local election process.”
Ms. Dougherty-Johnson agreed.
“In two years when we have our next election, I definitely want to see the voter rolls cleaned up, have the village and the county talking to each other and have registration forms and petition forms at village hall, absentee ballots out as early as they can be and have the whole process just run smoothly and fairly, encouraging democracy.”
Current village board members Mary Bess Phillips and Julia Robins’ trustee seats will face reelection in 2025.
The incoming board members also addressed an issue close to the heart of many village residents: the preservation and restoration of two iconic village landmarks, the movie theater and the former Greenport Auditorium, which is currently a furniture store.
Mr. Stuessi said he’d seek to protect and restore the two properties “through code updates.
“In getting our LWRP updated, we’ll be in a great position to leverage potential grants to save both of them, and work with the committee that’s already been established to save the theater.”
Ms. Dougherty-Johnson said she was encouraged by ongoing efforts to save the theater.
“It’s been great to see the movie theater [supporters] out there raising money and planning events. I think that’s a great model for the auditorium and for other projects going forward. There’s a lot of energy and interest in saving these sites and creating cultural hubs.”
Mr. Brennan agreed that updating village codes would “have great influence over how these types of projects are managed.”
Mr. Stuessi also addressed a question that was a source of contention during the debates — his use of AirBnB to rent a property he owns to long-term tenants, a practice that is legal under village laws but has rubbed some residents the wrong way. These residents believe the village has been devastated by illegal short-term AirBnB rentals throughout the community.
Mr. Stuessi said the property is currently occupied by a long-term renter, but that his mother’s out-of-state home is up for sale and his goal is to move her into the space when her house sells.
The incoming mayor also said he intends during his first month in office to put out requests for proposals from companies with software programs that would help the village identify and address illegal short-term rental within the village borders.
Another topic upon which all the candidates agreed during the campaign was the need for better relationships with Southold Town officials.
Mr. Stuessi said he has already reached out to Town Supervisor Scott Russell to set up a meeting to discuss, among other topics, the need for the village and the town to work together on building more affordable housing. He said he also hopes to schedule a joint board meeting between Village Board members and Town Board members. Mr. Brennan agreed, saying he expects to see a more visible presence of Village Board members at Town Board meetings in the future.
Whatever changes the village board is in store for under its new administration, Mr. Brennan said, “my supporters expect a professional and respectful approach to village meetings, sound judgment and even temperament.
“I hope to apply that to whatever issues we’re facing.”