Claudio’s new parking app sparks debate on Facebook

A new digital parking app in use at the parking lot behind Claudio’s in Greenport had the community buzzing last week — with more questions than answers. Greenport Deputy Mayor Mary Bess Phillips and former Southold Supervisor Scott Russell were among those who weighed in.

“Much discussion of Claudio’s decision to use [the] AirGarage app to create further income from their parking lot,” Ms. Phillips posted on the “Let’s Talk Village of Greenport” Facebook page. “Simple really — their private parking lot, charging for the space and collecting the violation fee goes into their checking account. Going by the photo — I do not see a sign that states ‘for Claudio’s customers only.’ Maybe I missed it….”

In a follow up interview last week, Ms. Phillips said that she had been responding to a previous post about the parking lot app, which had generated dozens of responses. She said that she had been too busy to look into the matter further. “I’ll be honest with you,” she said. “I haven’t had a chance to delve into it any further than asking questions.”

Mr. Russell responded to Ms. Phillips’ initial post with some questions of his own.

“The Town Code requires that a business have a certain number of parking spaces for its customers,” he wrote. “There are differing requirements for the amount of spaces needed based on the type of business it is. This requirement would prohibit those businesses from restricting the parking such as charging fees. Most codes throughout [New York State] have similar, common sense code requirements. Does the Village Code have the same requirements? If so, would restricting parking through fees be in violation of those?”

“The questions you have in your post are the same as mine,” Mr. Russell added. “Will be asking.”

Mr. Russell declined to comment beyond what he had posted online.

Another commenter, Zoning Board of Appeals member John Saladino, said, “Claudio’s providing parking for a fee for their customers is one thing. Claudio’s operating a public parking lot for a fee seems to be outside the terms of their site plan. Also, as per Village Code, [p]ublic parking lots are not a permitted use in the [Waterfront Commercial district].”

More than a dozen others have since commented in response to Ms. Phillips’ original post, including several who questioned if Claudio’s even owns the parking lot.

Greenport Mayor Kevin Stuessi said Tuesday that the village received “an amended site plan application from Claudio’s yesterday, which should cover all of their property, including current and proposed uses as requested.”

He said Claudio’s management is scheduled to appear before the village planning board on May 31, “to review all current ‘as built’ uses and any potential new ones for any needed approvals. As for this current parking system they just installed, village counsel is currently reviewing in advance of this meeting.”

Jonathan Abbott, who runs events and marketing for Claudio’s, said in an interview that the only thing that has changed since last year is the form in which the parking payment is taken.

In the past, parking attendants collected $10 fees to park on the lot. Now payment is made through the automated app.

“We’ve always charged for parking,” Mr. Abbott said. “Back in the day they did validate the parking and then refund the money, but since we’ve owned the place, since 2018, we’ve never validated parking.”

He said this summer, using the AirGarage app, drivers will be charged $3.50 per hour with a maximum fee of $15 per day, and the restaurant will validate 50% of the ticket charge for Claudio’s patrons. Last summer drivers were charged $10 to park.

“So you’re actually paying less than you were last year if you dine at the restaurant,” he said.

He said the restaurant loses money on the parking lot each year, even after charging for summer parking.

“This is not a money grab.” 

As for ownership of the lot itself — which he said counts  about 100 parking spaces – Mr. Abbott said there was a “big long history of Claudio’s using that parking lot for their customers.

“I’m not totally clear on whether they own that parking lot or not. Nobody seems to know so far as I’ve been able to determine. But it was something that nobody really thought twice about because they’re also providing much needed public parking.”

In the summer of 2002, after a car drove into the Greenport harbor, killing two people, the village commissioned a legal opinion on ownership of the wharf upon which Claudio’s sits, including a boat landing on the east side of the property.

The attorneys concluded that “it is our opinion that the property on which the public landing in question is located is presently owned by [Bill] Claudio, and that ownership is subject to the ‘free use’ by the public of the village landing on the east side of said wharf. This language does not serve to confer any rights to the Village, as a corporate body, to regulate or control the public landing.”