The split personality that divides Port Jefferson into a village of haves and have-nots could be healed by last week's adoption of a new master plan, Mayor Margot J. Garant said.
The 160-page comprehensive plan aims to make Port Jefferson's struggling Upper Port neighborhood as vibrant as the village's trendy harborfront downtown by encouraging new stores, restaurants and apartments, Garant said.
The gleaming harborfront bustles with summer tourists and visitors departing on boats at the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson ferry terminal.VideoC’est Cheese: A bit of Europe in Port Jefferson
A mile away, Upper Port, a business district once known for its popular antiques shops, is plagued by empty storefronts, boarded-up windows and a building with "No Trespassing" spray-painted on it.
"There are some beautiful properties back there," Garant said of Upper Port, near the Long Island Rail Road's Port Jefferson train station. "I'm concerned about the property owners up there. They need assistance . . . and that's exactly what the master plan provides."
The plan, unanimously approved June 22 by the village board, calls for new zoning in Upper Port that would permit taller buildings -- 45 feet high, up from the current 35-foot height limit -- that would allow apartments over street-level shops and restaurants.
The plan received a stamp of approval earlier this month from smart-growth advocacy group Vision Long Island, which recognized Port Jefferson officials with an award for the plan's focus on open space, new housing options and pedestrian access to village amenities.
"Boosting the area by the train station, in Upper Port, I think was key," Vision Long Island executive director Eric Alexander said. "The mayor took some heat. She involved the public. She didn't pander. She stuck to her guns on the tougher stuff."
The plan was adopted after six years of sometimes contentious debate by residents. In January, three members of a citizens advisory committee appointed by the village board to craft ideas for the plan resigned, saying their suggestions had been ignored.
The Suffolk County Planning Commission in February issued a conditional approval of the plan, but said it failed to address its potential impact on traffic, taxes and other issues.
Garant said the village had paid $40,000 for a traffic study that was included in the master plan. "I think they raised concerns that we addressed," Garant said.
The master plan's adoption came less than a week after Garant was elected to her fourth two-year term, defeating Community Party candidate Dave Forgione, who campaigned against the plan. Trustee Bruce D'Abramo, an ally of Garant, said the vote showed the plan had widespread support.
"The village spoke loudly and clearly on their feelings on the comprehensive plan," D'Abramo said.