Brookhaven officials are on the verge of adding a new zoning district intended to help struggling marinas, but the plan has run aground with some boatyard owners.
The proposal to add Marine Commercial districts seeks to help 15 private marinas that are in a legal Catch-22: They are located in the town's J2 business zoning category, which doesn't allow marinas.
Boatyards in Marine Commercial zones would be allowed to operate legally and would be permitted to add services, such as bait-and-tackle shops and restaurants, that are not allowed in J2 zones, town officials said.
Councilman Dan Panico said the code change would bring marinas into compliance with town zoning laws while helping owners expand their businesses legally.
"We're essentially helping the marina owners, protecting the community and zoning the town correctly," Panico said.
But some marina owners say that while they support the goals of the new code, they are not sure it will work as intended.
"If they do pass it, I don't know," said Ken Hildebrand, owner of Beaver Dam Boat Basin in Brookhaven hamlet. "They say as long as we operate the way we are, we won't have any issue with anything. ... Only time will tell."
Hildebrand said some marinas in residential neighborhoods could face community backlash if they try to add restaurants to their businesses.
"I wouldn't want a restaurant next to my house, either," he said. "I don't blame them."
Hildebrand and other marina owners say they have struggled at times since the 2008 recession as interest in boating has ebbed and flowed depending on whether customers have extra money to spend on recreation.
Being allowed to add year-round services such as boat storage would help them make extra money in winter months, some marina owners said.
"We've been losing marinas," Dave Kazmark, owner of Patchogue Shores Marina in East Patchogue, said at a June 26 town board public hearing. "I know other people who run marinas who are ready to throw in the towel."
Justin Tempelman said he has mixed feelings about the proposal. He said he bought the former Beach House restaurant at Morgan's Marina in Patchogue earlier this year hoping to reopen it this summer as JT's Hideaway. But town officials told him the restaurant was not allowed under the current zoning code, he said.
The new code would allow the restaurant, Tempelman said, but he lost "at least a million in sales" because of the snag.
"It just seems like a very unfriendly business environment," Tempelman said. "This problem could have been nipped in the bud many, many years ago."
Hildebrand said the new zoning might offer the best chance to keep marinas in business, but he added the proposed law should do more to protect them.
"I'd like to stay in business and keep it for my own sons," Hildebrand said. "I don't want them looking back at this day and say they wish dad had stuck up for the rights of marinas."
The town board is expected to vote on the measure on Thursday.
The problem: Many private boat yards in Brookhaven Town are improperly placed in J2 zones, which allow businesses such as restaurants, pizza takeouts and laundries, but not marinas.
The proposal: Town officials say Marine Commercial districts would enable marinas to conform with town zoning.
Marinas also would be eligible for town approval of additional uses such as bait-and-tackle shops, vessel storage, boat fueling stations, sailing lessons and restaurants, officials say.