Southampton Village is looking for a solution to vacant storefronts...

Southampton Village is looking for a solution to vacant storefronts like these seen Tuesday on Main Street. Credit: John Roca

The Village of Southampton, hoping to minimize the number of empty storefronts downtown, is considering a registry for commercial properties that are vacant along Main Street and Jobs Lane.

Mayor Jesse Warren proposed the registry at the village’s Nov. 10 meeting, saying he hoped it would put pressure on a small number of property owners with chronic vacancies to find tenants. He said the move also could level the playing field for small-business owners seeking fair market rents.

“Some landlords simply do not want to transact,” Warren told Newsday. “They have plenty of offers, but they're not taking anyone up on their offers, because they are either waiting it out to get above-market rates, or they are potentially using the vacancy as a tax write-off.”

A public hearing on the registry proposal is scheduled for Dec. 8 at 6 p.m. at Village Hall, 23 Main St. The village board may vote to approve the registry that evening, Warren said.

Establishing the registry would create a database that small-business owners looking to set up shop in the village could use to contact potential landlords, the mayor said. Owners of vacant storefronts would be required to pay a small fee to sign up for the registry. Anyone whose storefront has been vacant for more than 30 days who does not register would be subject to a fine. Storefronts occupied by returning seasonal businesses would be exempt.

Warren, who owns a business downtown, said the idea for the registry came after first exploring a vacancy tax, which he learned is not permissible under state law.

The mayor said that in speaking with business owners, he found many were concerned about landlords raising rents and forcing them to move, which could create more vacancies if the landlord fails to find a replacement tenant at the new rate.

“There’s no reason to not extend a good business’ rent,” Warren said.

At the Nov. 10 meeting, the mayor said he’s seen some landlords seeking "as much as quadruple" what others are for renting commercial space. 

Warren said the proposal has been supported by most business owners and landlords he’s spoken with. In most cases, they simply do not like to see neighboring storefronts remain vacant as it could reflect poorly on the business community in the eyes of consumers.

Susan Madonia, who operates Ann Madonia Antiques on Jobs Lane, said it’s important to see storefronts filled to create “a more vibrant downtown.”

“It leaves a terrible hole when there’s an empty storefront that could have been rented,” said Madonia, whose family-owned business opened in Southampton in 1986.

A registry that is maintained fairly and equitably is something Madonia said she would be happy to support.

Warren stressed that the registry is intended to deal with a very limited number of landlords with long-term vacancies. He said usually when a business leaves on its own, landlords have had no issue finding a new tenant.

“This is an area where businesses want to move in,” he said.

KEY OBJECTIVES

  • Create a database with names and contact information for landlords with vacant storefronts.
  • Put pressure on landlords to fill long-term vacancies.
  • Provide a mechanism for citing landlords who do not register.

Residents, shopkeepers and commercial property owners can weigh in on the proposed registry during a public hearing at 6 p.m. on Dec. 8 at Village Hall, 23 Main St.