Detractors continue to call for an end to the controversial Bay Shore metered parking program — but two summers and several tweaks later, some restaurateurs near Great South Bay say the meters are vital to their businesses’ survival.
The Town of Islip first installed parking meters along Maple Avenue and the municipal lot at the end of the street that jets out into Great South Bay in its first phase of metering public spots across the booming hamlet.
Pat Robinson, 55, who has co-owned the Chowder Bar for the past 30 years, said parking was a nightmare for locals before the meters were turned on in June 2015.
“On Memorial Day, local people would just say, ‘See you in September!’ because they didn’t want to have to face the disaster that was the parking situation that was down here,” Robinson said. “People would get here early and park their car all weekend around the restaurant. No spots would be left during the busy summer.”
At first, the metered spots in front of Robinson’s business were for 24-hour parking, which didn’t solve the issue, she said. But town officials were in regular contact with her to solicit feedback, she said, and the spots were then changed to 12 hours before another switch turned them into two-hour parking, optimal for those wishing to get a bite of shrimp scampi or blackened Cajun catfish.
Peter Kletchka, Islip Town’s public works project supervisor, in an update at a recent town board meeting said the program is “flexible and fluid in nature,” and its efficiency has attracted The Lake House, a restaurant that moved from Main Street to the Maple Avenue docks last year, as well as “given confidence to investors” who plan to open up a new restaurant there called Whalers in the coming months.
“I know it doesn’t work for everyone, everywhere,” said Eileen Connors, a co-owner of The Lake House. “But for us, it’s 100 percent necessary. It was a free-for-all for years and finally there seems to be some order.”
Still, some residents and patrons of other areas where the parking meters have been installed, such as in the Main Street business district, continue to want changes — or a complete dismantling of the program.
Last month, the town suspended the meters in the municipal lots behind Main Street before 6 p.m.
But Donna Periconi, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Bay Shore — who has been an outspoken critic of the meter program, calling it “discriminatory taxation” because Bay Shore is the only hamlet in Islip Town with them — said limiting the hours isn’t enough.
Last week, Periconi said she had $150 in quarters for volunteers to feed the meters for patrons of the chamber’s free Bay Shore-Brightwaters Symphonic Band concert.
“There are literally hundreds of senior citizens that can’t walk the distance from the free lots, and it’s not convenient,” Periconi said. “We’ve never had to ask people to pay to come to a free concert before.”
At recent town board meetings, many public complaints continued to be lodged against the meters. But Robinson, who said the meters have provided “tremendous turnover” for more patrons, encouraged those dismayed by the meters to keep an open dialogue with officials.
“I’m not hearing complaints from my customers anymore about that they can’t find parking,” Robinson said. “For Main Street, they’re just getting the parking meters and they’re going through the growing pains of what we went through.”