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Riverhead may borrow street space to help businesses boost commerce

A rendering of the plan that a committee

A rendering of the plan that a committee in Greenport has come up with shows how the sidewalks in the village's downtown can be widened by abolishing on-street parking and adding the area of the parking lane to the sidewalks.

Riverhead officials are considering enacting similar measures Greenport began testing recently that would temporarily close off certain downtown streets to help local businesses and restaurants.

Greenport business owners suggested temporarily eliminating some parking on Front and Main streets to use sidewalks to expand pedestrian walkways and provide additional limited areas for outdoor retail spaces.

“I know some other towns have done that, and I thought I would like to have that discussion with the Chamber of Commerce and the BID [Business improvement District] and other board members to see if, at some points in the summer, we could close off streets not for vendors but for local business and restaurants so they could expand their outside seating area and actually make it even safer,” Councilwoman Catherine Kent said in a June 3 interview.

Kent — who suggested the board consider the idea at its May 26 work session — said temporarily closing off some of the streets on occasion this summer, such as Saturdays, could help Riverhead explore options to help businesses on Main Street expand outside seating.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said she wanted to run the idea by the town’s emergency services and fire departments to see whether the temporary closures would still give them access to Main Street for medical assistance.  

Greenport conducted a trial run from May 30 to June 1, prohibiting on-street parking from Center Street to the southern end of Main Street, and on certain sections of Front Street. The plan would temporarily eliminate about 60 parking spaces in that area.

Village officials have approved the creation of a committee to move the plan ahead. The committee wants to have those pathways ready by the start of July.

Rich Vandenburgh, president of the Greenport Business Improvement District, said using on-street parking in that area to create pedestrian pathways would be “the perfect middle ground solution” to giving pedestrians more space to walk while obeying social distancing measures and allowing businesses to provide commerce outside their stores.

Residents in online forums have expressed concerns that the measures would take away parking space in the village during the busiest time of the year. However, Vandenburgh said the committee would look for ways to “solve that question of where else people can park.”

Dave Kapell, a member of the committee and a former village mayor, said such actions were critical to ensure the survival of the village’s downtown businesses.

“The business district is the heartbeat of Greenport,” Kapell said. “For those of us who remember, a Greenport with half the stores vacant was not a great place to live. People need to understand the consequence if nobody does anything here.”

A LOOK AT GREENPORT'S PLAN

  • The full cost for setting up pedestrian pathways and temporary sidewalk expansion in those closed parking areas $90,000 to $100,000.
  • The costs and materials for the project would be covered in part with a combination of donations from private donors, $40,000 from the Business Improvement District and a preliminary commitment of materials from Riverhead Building Supply.
  • Once the New York State Department of Transportation approves the project’s final plan, Greenport Business Improvement District officials say they hope the village will also contribute funding.

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