By David Luces
Northport residents came out in support of the business a local hotel could bring but raised concerns about the traffic that may come with it.
Northport village held a hearing Jan. 29 on business owners Kevin O’Neill and Richard Dolce’s, of the John W. Engeman Theater, proposal to construct a hotel-restaurant, The Northport Hotel, at 225 Main St. The much-anticipated project drew a large crowd to the American Legion Hall, which was packed to standing room only.
Christopher Modelewski, an attorney representing O’Neill and Dolce, presented an updated site rendering of the hotel at the village public hearing Jan. 29. The rendering included changes they made to the site as a result of concerns raised by the planning board and area professionals.
Study: Northport has parking spots, if you walk
Northport residents voiced their concerns about a lack of parking along Main Street at a Jan. 29 public hearing on a proposed hotel and restaurant. Yet, a study released in December 2018 determined there are plenty of spots if people are willing to walk.
The Village of Northport hired Old Bethpage-based Level G Associates LLC to perform a paid parking study of Northport. Their survey, which took place from August to October 2018, concluded the village’s 615 parking spaces are sufficient, with a slight exception of summer evenings.
Northport’s central business district has a total 195 metered slots and 420 free spaces between Main Street and its side municipal lots, according to the study. Nearly half of these spots are divided between streetside metered parking on Main Street, and the two free lots adjacent to the village’s waterfront parks.
On a typical weekday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Level G Associates found 60 percent of Main Street metered spots were taken and Main Street lots were full as well. However, the study cited roughly 100 available spaces in the waterside lots and Lot 7, located off Woodside Avenue by the American Legion hall.
“These are normal/healthy parking patterns for an active [central business district],” the report reads.
On Friday and Saturday evenings, Level G Associates found most metered parking spots and lots on Main Street were full. However, the study found “ample available parking” in the free waterside and Woodside Avenue lots that “are within reasonable walking distance for downtown employees or visitors.”
The only time traffic experts found an issue with the village’s parking was on summer nights, from 5 to 9 p.m. The study found the village’s parking is 95 percent full, often due to concerts and special event attendance, and could be improved through the addition of 72 spaces.
Tom Kehoe, deputy mayor of Northport, said the village board is being proactive in trying to address parking demands and congestion concerns.
“The evaluation provided us with some suggestions that we may consider,” he said.
Some suggestions include re-striping of waterfront municipal lots could add 30 spaces, expanding the free lot by the American Legion to add 35 spots and development of a parking management plan. Other ideas given by Level G Associates are just not feasible, according to Kehoe such as leasing the parking lot used by the St. Philip Neri Church and Parish Center on Prospect Avenue.
Kehoe also said he has suggested moving the village’s Highway Department out of the Woodside Avenue lot to provide more spaces.
“It is a public safety issue,” the deputy mayor said. “You have the theater close by, snow plows are in there — that lot can get very busy.”
Kehoe said Northport residents are fortunate to live in a place where people want to visit and spend money, but in turn that causes more of a demand for parking. The village’s town board plans to continue the process of making these changes between now and the upcoming summer.
When the building plans were first presented to the village’s planning board in May 2017, O’Neill sought to construct a 24-room hotel and a 200-seat restaurant. Recent changes have reduced the size of the restaurant to 124 seats with an additional 50 seats in the lobby and
Despite these changes, Northport residents continued to express concern about accessibility and how it could exacerbate parking issues in the village.
Tom Mele, of Northport, said he is for the creation of the hotel but argues it is off base to think that there isn’t an accessibility and parking problem in the village.
“If you [O’Neill] love this town as much as you say you do, you would find a way to work with the village board,” Mele said. “Work with them to decrease the traffic on Main Street and if that means downsizing the venue downstairs to accommodate the people, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for.”
Northport property owner Frank Cavagnaro expressed similar sentiments saying that the planning board shouldn’t accept the site plans as is. He viewed the parking issue as his main concern.
“You’re gonna come in and try to stuff five pounds of bologna in a 1-pound bag — it’s not going to fit,” Cavagnaro said. “Parking in the village is terrible, it’s going to kill the village.”
The Village of Northport commissioned a parking study by Old Bethpage-based Level G Associates, released in December 2018, that found that during a typical weekday the downtown area “exhibited normal and healthy parking patterns.” While approximately 60 percent of Main Street metered spots were taken and the free Main Street lots were full, the study found 100 free spaces available during peak times in the in the municipal lots.
Still, Cavagnaro presented a possible compromise to the village board.
“Consider a smaller restaurant, to get him started with the option if we find more parking, for him [O’Neill] to come back to the board,” Cavagnaro said.
Modelewski also cited a traffic impact study performed by Walter Dunn, a professional engineer and founder of Dunn Engineering Associates, and Tom Mazzola, former traffic and safety director for the Town of Huntington. The study found that the hotel would have a benign impact on the traffic in the area.
O’Neill said under the proposed plans there would be no parking on Woodside Avenue and no right turn out of the two parking lots so traffic does not go into residential areas.
“We will have the ability to take, between the theater and the hotel-restaurant operation, roughly 150 cars off [the] street,” O’Neill said. “The village has 609 [parking] spots, for anybody in the industry that’s a seismic shift in the dynamics in how much parking is being provided.”
Residents were also concerned about the possibility of delivery trucks unloading on Main Street, which is not permitted under Northport village law according to Modelewski.
“Tractor trailers and box cars double park behind cars — that’s unlawful,” the hotel’s attorney said. “There’s a reason why the law isn’t being enforced — it’s because it’s the only way businesses can function.”
Modelewski said O’Neill will work with the suppliers to use only box cars.
Northport resident Alex Edwards-Bourdrez said the proposed hotel would fit the town beautifully.
“I understand that there can be all these of glitches [in the process] but I would ask for all of us to rise up together in support of this,” Edwards-Bourdrez said. “We have all the brains in here to put the pieces together in a way that they won’t fall apart, it won’t choke the village — I don’t believe it will.”
Edwards-Bourdrez also touched on the issue of parking.
“Nobody that goes into New York City or a bigger town worries about walking 5 to 10 minutes to where they are going,” he said. “There is parking, you just sometimes can’t park right next to where you want to go. We have to make these concessions for us to grow as a village.”
The village’s parking study found that on a typical weekend, defined as Friday and Saturday evenings, there is ample available parking “within reasonable walking distance for downtown employees or visitors.”
Lenny Olijnyk, of Northport, said everybody was against the theater until O’Neill took over and renovated it in 2007. He argued that the hotel would increase the village’s commercial tax base.
“Maybe we can clean up the streets a little bit, the sidewalks will get fixed,” Olijnyk said. “You have to think about that. The village wants to grow, my grandkids are going to live here. There has to be revenue for the village.”
O’Neill felt strongly in order for his theater business and others to strive they must work together in a positive way.
“It’s just not sitting up here trying to make money, there’s more to it,” he said. “I don’t believe in sucking the community dry where we do business.”