Questions swirl around major Greenport zoning changes

As Greenport prepares to lift a development moratorium and begin welcoming new proposals for the first time this year, the Village Board has extended an ongoing public hearing through at least Sept. 21 about sweeping potential zoning changes.

Since December, the village has been keeping new development at bay with a moratorium while it examines and reassesses a spectrum of municipal zoning codes. 

What the recently re-formed Village Board — three of whose five members are new to political office — has been grappling with since its inception is how to support and sustain a robust, year-round business community in a place where most businesses generate the bulk of their annual revenue during the bustling summer months. 

Tuesday night, at the third public meeting on the proposed zoning changes, representatives of the village’s Business Improvement District and others sought clarifications and more time to mull them over. 

“I need to explain this to people who are tearing their hair out,” new BID president Nancy Kouris told Mayor Kevin Stuessi and village trustees. “A lot of my members still have not acknowledged that this is going on.”

She then asked for additional time, saying, “I’d like to poll [BID member businesses] and see what the temperature of the business district is.”

Mr. Stuessi acknowledged that the scores of pages of proposed changes will take time to absorb, while also noting that the village’s zoning subcommittee has been holding public meetings once a week for several months.

“We are very cognizant that this is a very important code update for the community, both for those of us who live here and those of us who operate businesses here … It’s been many decades since these codes were looked at, and it’s a very important thing to update on a regular basis.”

The mayor said the code subcommittee has recommended zoning changes and that the board is still seeking public input. Most of the proposed changes would impact only new businesses, but others, including a required entertainment permit, would also affect existing establishments. 

Mr. Stuessi said another special meeting on the zoning changes is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 8, at 6 p.m. at the Third Street Firehouse, and deliberations would continue at the board’s next work session on Sept. 21. 

Among the proposed changes are the creation of a mandatory entertainment permit for village businesses that want to showcase live entertainment, a village-wide ban on nightclubs, revisions to the village’s noise ordinances and a rezoning of numerous commercial properties.

Another proposed change would require all new “conditional use” businesses to create a specified number of parking spaces, relative to their size or business use. New bars, restaurants and tasting rooms, for example, would need to carve out two spaces for every three customers, based on the establishment’s rated capacity, plus one space per employee. Existing businesses would not be required to create more parking — provided no “substantial expansion” is undertaken.

New businesses subject to the parking requirements would have three options, village trustee Mary Bess Phillips said in a recent interview: Work with the Planning Board to identify potential on-site parking options; seek a variance from the village Zoning Board of Appeals; or use the “payment in lieu of parking” program, whereby new business owners pay the village instead of creating parking on the property themselves. The cost would be $25,000 per space for businesses requiring 10 or fewer parking spaces, and $50,000 apiece for businesses needing more than that. The money raised would go into a fund dedicated solely to construction, acquisition or maintenance of public roads, sidewalks and parking facilities in the Commercial Retail zone.

Tora Matsuoka, one of the new owners of Aldo’s Coffee Company, who is also representing Claudio’s, suggested that now was not the time to be implementing major zoning changes. 

“This past month is a very busy time of year, and today [the day after Labor Day] is a rough time and is normally held for a day of sleep for most of us.

“I am personally representing the largest restaurant in town and — being the largest employer — haven’t had much time to consume all of this.”

Mr. Matsuoka said that “so many people have been contacting me, personally, asking me, ‘Tora, what the hell is going on?’ ”

He added that “many have shared concern that ranges from mild to complete chaos.” 

Mr. Matsuoka also challenged comments made by village officials at the last public hearing on zoning, suggesting that all the properties that would be impacted by the proposed changes had been contacted by mail.

“I would like to present some signed documents from the local businesses, stating that they were not contacted,” he said.

Ms. Phillips, who chairs the zone subcommittee, told Ms. Kouris, “I would love to see [the BID] pull in some of those other businesses, and give their input. Then it gets to us — in a quicker way.” 

Mr. Stuessi said the potential zoning changes that could prove costly to large new businesses were proposed in response to input from residents. 

“What we heard from the community, very loudly and clear, was that people were concerned about more intensive uses — large restaurants, hotels. Those are things that drive more traffic, so the code [sub]committee studied that.”