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Parking

Representatives from Qwik Ride, Port Jefferson Village and the Port Jefferson BID announce the kick off of Qwik Ride in the village during a press event Nov. 5. Photo by Alex Petroski

Business owners and elected officials in Port Jefferson Village are confident they’ve finally found the antidote to the business district’s most talked about problem.

In an effort to open up parking for more visitors, the Port Jefferson Business Improvement District has partnered with Qwik Ride, a company that uses 100 percent electric vehicles summoned by a mobile phone application to alleviate parking constraints in downtown areas.

“We have tried a lot of different things,” Mayor Margot Garant said. “I think it’s fun, it’s mobile, it’s free — it solves all of our issues. It can help an employee park out of the village and open up a spot. It can bring a resident downtown and keep that spot open for somebody else. And I think they’re innovative and they’re flexible, and I think when you have a dynamic problem you need a dynamic solution.”

The service is offered free of charge to riders thanks to a sponsorship contract between the BID and Qwik Ride. One of the two cars allotted to Port Jeff Village is sponsored by the BID as a whole, while the second is sponsored by Tommy Schafer, restaurant owner, village resident and BID president individually.

“Parking is widely perceived as the major contributing factor to the demise of foot traffic in this village and the ultimate failure of so many businesses, so having an option to try to get around the parking problem by having people picked up and not having to bring their cars down into the village is an obvious benefit,” Schafer said. “They look fun to ride in too, so hopefully it’ll spur people on. The fact that it’s no charge, I can’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be a huge success.”

The contracts are for 20 months, with services being available beginning this Saturday, Nov. 10 from noon to midnight. Initially the cars will be running Thursdays and Fridays from 5 p.m. to midnight and 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Qwik Ride owner Dan Cantelmo said the company hopes to eventually have up to five cars sponsored in Port Jeff and service available seven days a week, though expansion will be based on demand.

Once operational, the service will pick up Port Jefferson residents in the 11777, and those traveling to the area from outside of the village are instructed to park in the CVS parking lot on Main Street near Earl L. Vandermeulen High School to summon the cars from there for transport downtown. The company has rolled out cars in Patchogue, Northport and Huntington villages earlier this year with great success, according to Cantelmo.

“All have a similar concept — trying to ease the parking and encourage people to park further away so that we can bring them into the town,” he said.

While the service is only planned to operate Thursday through Sunday in PJV at first, special events like the Charles Dickens Festival and popular nights out like the Wednesday before Thanksgiving will be covered as well.

The cars will be kept in the parking lot behind Village Hall when not in service, but the village has no other stake in the agreement, other than offering its support, according to Garant. During the summers of 2017 and 2018, the BID partnered with a valet parking company to offer a municipal parking service, an agreement that required village permission to use certain parking lots, though failed to garner enough usage to remain viable.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” said Roger Rutherford, general manager of The Port Jefferson Frigate. “ I think it’s going to mean more customers for us.”

The Town of Huntington's municipal parking lot between New and Green streets. File Photo by Rohma Abbas

Town of Huntington officials voted to take the next step forward in pursuing construction of a parking garage in Huntington village Oct. 23. Yet, both elected officials and business owners remain divided over whether it is the best solution to a decades-old problem in this modern era.

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) led the town’s Local Development Corporation in approving the release of up to $16,000 to investigate the feasibility of constructing a parking structure in Huntington village over the existing municipal lot between New and Green streets by a 4-1 vote.

“We want to continue trying to explore and see what our options are with that area to see if the ground is physically sound to build something,” Lupinacci said. “We don’t want to lose any grant money that may be available to us.”

We want to continue trying to explore and see what our options are with that area to see if the ground is physically sound to build something.”

—Chad Lupinacci

The $16,000 in funds will be used to conduct soil borings, a topographic survey of the area, prepare utility mark-outs and other necessary preliminary steps needed prior to start of construction, according to Lupinacci.

In December 2017, the town had been awarded a $1.7 million grant from the state’s Regional Economic Council for construction of a facility to ease the village’s long-term parking woes.

The town had previously contracted with Level G Associates of Bethpage who completed a report in May 2017 that determined it was both physically and economically feasible for the town to construct a 528-space parking deck. To date, the town does not have any conceptual plans for a garage, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo.

That may be due in part to the divide between elected officials, local business owners and Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce on whether constructing a new facility is the best solution.

Councilman Eugene Cook (I) was the sole vote against further studies for a proposed parking garage between New and Green streets Tuesday night.

Why spend $16,000 if we may not need it,? There are stages that we need to go through to do it properly, and I think we are rushing it with this stage.”

— Eugene Cook

“Why spend $16,000 if we may not need it,” he said. “There are stages that we need to go through to do it properly, and I think we are rushing it with this stage.”

Cook said there are new town employees in the town’s Public Safety Department who are researching the cause of parking issues plaguing the town and expressed some “good ideas.” The councilman cited advances in technology, such as the future possibility of automated cars, could change both transportation and resulting parking needs of the area.

Brian Yudewitz, chairman of Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber holds a similar position that alternative solutions to a parking garage and modern technologies need to be more closely considered after getting feedback from its members. He said the town’s last parking study was done before the prolific use of ride services like Lift, Uber and the new Qwik Ride shuttles.

“The word we’re getting from a lot of merchants in town is those things are being used quite a bit,” Yudewitz said. “Another thing we do suggest is the re-evaluation of the structure of the municipal lots and paid parking structure as it stands to see if there’s a better way to get people in and out.”

The town implemented metered street-side parking in Huntington village in April 2014 and renewed its contract with Devo & Associates for the parking pay system Tuesday night for another three years through September 2021. Yet, the system has its critics.

I would be so in favor of them building even a two-story parking garage.” 

— Gabriel Garcia

“It’s upsetting for many people,” Gabriel Garcia, manager of Bistro Cassis said. “I understand why they do it, but you can’t expect people to park for only three hours if they want to spend a whole night out on the town.”

Garcia said available parking spaces in Huntington village remains his biggest concern, given patrons regularly express their frustrations to him and state they won’t visit the restaurant on weekends due to a lack of available slots.

“I would be so in favor of them building even a two-story parking garage,” he said.

He estimated only 30 percent of his restaurant’s clientele would be willing to consider using ride services such as Uber or the Qwik Ride shuttles, as they don’t rely on other sources for transportation.

Across town, Honu Kitchen & Cocktails owner Mark Zecher said he frequently sees customers utilizing Qwik Ride shuttles, since it started operating in August, and public transportation playing a positive role in addressing the area’s parking issues.

I always tell people, ‘If we didn’t’ have a parking problem, we’d all have a problem.'”

— Mark Zecher

“More and more people are using Uber, and it not only has to do with the parking situation but the drinking and driving laws,” Zecher said. “People are becoming much more conscious and responsible.”

Zecher said there is an ever-present need for more parking by the village’s businesses.

“I always tell people, ‘If we didn’t’ have a parking problem, we’d all have a problem,’” he said.

Despite his business being close to the proposed site of the parking garage, Zecher said he was unsure if more municipal lots or a new facility was the best solution for parking woes given potential costs or the possible impact of neighboring businesses during construction.

“At the end of the day, more parking spots would be good but how we get there and how it affects businesses along the way is a question I can’t answer,” Zecher said.

A Qwik Ride vehicle currently on the streets of Patchogue. Photo from Qwik Ride

Village of Northport officials are hoping business owners and residents will extend a warm welcome to a new transportation service prepared to roll out next week.

Qwik Ride will be expanding its shuttle service to downtown Northport Oct. 3, offering free pick-up and drop-off from/to area restaurants, stores and businesses. The company is based in Patchogue and launched a second service in Huntington village in late August.

“The Northport Village officials thought this would be great, once they heard that we were operating in Huntington,” Qwik Ride co-owner Daniel Cantelmo said. “ They reached out to us.”

“t’s a good fit because we have a parking problem. We’re going to have to do something in Northport to change what we do with our cars.”

— Tom Kehoe

Tom Kehoe, deputy mayor of Northport village, said he first learned about the service through members of the village’s Business Development Committee. The company offers rides in modified six-passenger golf carts equipped with heat and small television screens to shuttle passengers around busy downtown areas.

“It’s a good fit because we have a parking problem,” Kehoe said. “We’re going to have to do something in Northport to change what we do with our cars.”

The village has retained consultants Old Bethpage-based Level G Associates LLC to perform a paid parking study of Northport, according to Kehoe, which is already underway. Level G Associates has previously performed parking studies for other Suffolk towns including Huntington and Kings Park.

Kehoe said there is a need for the village to be proactive in tackling its parking issues given the proposed development on its horizon. Kevin O`Neill and his business partner, Richard Dolce, both of John W. Engeman Theater, have proposed plans to construct a hotel at 225 Main St. that are moving forward.

“There are people in the area that already can’t access Main Street because it’s too congested with traffic,” said Jim Izzo, vice president of Northport Chamber of Commerce. “This seems to be a viable alternative.”

Izzo, owner of Cow Harbor Realty, said he hopes that Qwik Ride can be part of the village’s multipronged approach to solving traffic congestion. He would like to see village business employees park further from Main Street to open up more spaces for clients and customers, leaving spots that will turn over at a faster pace.

There are people in the area that already can’t access Main Street because it’s too congested with traffic. This seems to be a viable alternative.”

— Jim Izzo

“It would be a big deal to get a lot of the parking spots freed up,” Izzo said.

The chamber’s vice president acknowledged that O`Neill already offers a valet parking system to assist theatergoers and help reduced Main Street backup.

“He’s been trying to solve the problem on his own,” Izzo said. “As a collective, we have a real chance of making a difference, not just a Band-Aid. If everyone got on board, it would behoove everyone.”

Qwik Ride gave a presentation to Northport chamber members at its Sept. 25 meeting. The company will start with two vehicles offering services via an app in the approximate geographic area from Napper Tandy’s on Route 25A/Fort Salonga north to James Street, then from Laurel Avenue west to the waterfront. The service area will be somewhat limited as Qwik Ride uses electric vehicles and given Northport’s hilly
topography.

“Parking is a serious situation that doesn’t get better by ignoring it,” Izzo said. “Some things are going to work and some things will fail miserably. If we don’t take a shot, we’ll never know.”

Downtown Kings Park. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Town of Smithtown officials are one concrete step closer to paving the way for municipal parking in Kings Park’s downtown business district.

The town board voted unanimously Aug. 14 to enter a contract of sale to purchase two vacant lots off Pulaski Road for a price of $280,0000. If all goes smoothly, the purchase may fulfill the five-year wish of area residents who petitioned the town to buy the property in November 2013.

“We’re very pleased, we are going into contract,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “It will be a huge advantage to the business community there.”

Originally, the town had scheduled a public hearing for Aug. 14 on whether it should pursue the process of eminent domain to take ownership of the two lots owned by Queens residents Matthew and Marguerite Lupoli.

It will be a huge advantage to the business community there.”

— Ed Wehrheim

“It was a little bit of a tussle with the property owner who resides in Queens, but he’s willing to sell it,” the supervisor said.

A June 4 real estate appraisal of the two adjacent wooded lots determined the fair market price to be approximately $270,000 for the roughly 12,800 square feet, according to town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo. The town’s first purchase offer on the property was rejected by the owners, according to Wehrheim, but the second offer of $280,000 was accepted.

The supervisor said he is hopeful that the funds necessary to purchase the land will come from Suffolk County’s coffers, citing lengthy conversations with Suffolk  County Executive Steve Bellone (D). The measure will have to be  approved by the county Legislature.

“It looks positive,” Wehrheim said.

Smithtown town officials have been eyeing these wooded lots for municipal parking dating back to 2013.

A petition started by Park Bake Shop owners, Lucy and Gabe Shtanko, in 2013 received more than 600 signatures from Kings Park residents asking town officials to purchase the lot for municipal parking. Wehrheim said a 2014 appraisal determined its fair market price at $230,000, but Matthew Lupoli wasn’t interested in selling at that time.

It was a little bit of a tussle with the property owner who resides in Queens, but he’s willing to sell it.”

– Ed Wehrheim

There is a town municipal parking lot across the street from the Kings Park Fire Department on Main Street, next to the Kings Park branch of The Smithtown Public Library.

The western portion of Main Street — dubbed Restaurant Row — is the one area that could possibly use more municipal parking, according to the results of a 2018 market analysis study of downtown Kings Park presented by Larisa Ortiz, urban planner and principal of Larisa Ortiz Associates, to the town board Jan. 25.

“The municipal lots are inconvenient for restaurants,” reads the 62-page report.

The Restaurant Row area, which includes several eateries such as Cafe Red and Relish, averages 4.7 parking spots per 1,000 square feet of retail space. This is less than the two other areas of Main Street — known as the “civic heart,” near the Kings Park library and Long Island Rail Road station, and “car-centric retail,” which is centered around Tanzi Plaza and the Kings Park Plaza shopping center.

Ortiz’s other suggestions for improving the current parking situation in the Kings Park downtown area included restriping several existing lots — such as Relish’s — to accommodate more spaces and increase their efficiency.

In addition to Kings Park, Wehrheim said the town board has received a real estate appraisal of the Irish Viking pub in St. James and remains interested in purchasing it to create off-street parking for the Lake Avenue business district.

Mount Sinai resident Michael Cherry arrives to be the first customer of the valet parking service in Port Jeff in July 2017. File photo by Alex Petroski

Grass is green, water is wet and Port Jefferson Village doesn’t quite have enough parking to accommodate all of the demand.

To try to alleviate one of the village’s longest standing criticisms, the Port Jefferson Business Improvement District is taking another shot at a valet parking program to make finding a spot easier while patronizing downtown stores and restaurants on the weekends. The program was first instituted in July 2017 on an experimental basis, with cars dropped off in the Meadow parking lot, located south of Roessner Lane, west of Main Street and east of Barnum Avenue, adjacent to Rocketship Park. The increased traffic entering and exiting the parking lot and obstruction of spaces used for visitors of the nearby restaurants were among the complaints resulting from last year’s program that were tweaked for 2018.

Valet parking program
  • $7 per car
  • drop off at Village Hall
  • cars to be parked at Port Jefferson High School
  • service offered Fridays and Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day

“Last year’s location was less than optimal, in that cars were being staged on a very busy entrance to our busiest parking lot,” said Kevin Wood, parking administrator for the village, who will receive regular reports from BID representatives on the execution of the program throughout the summer. “The village has a responsibility to look at all ways and solutions to bring optimal parking options to its visitors and residents and reduce ‘parking anxiety.’”

This year, the drop-off point will be the parking lot behind Village Hall on West Broadway. The building has separate driveways for entering and exiting.

“The location at Village Hall is a very natural setting for staging cars with an entrance and an exit and a semi-circle flow,” he said.

The program will still cost users $7 but will only be offered from 5 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays. Last year Sunday hours were also available. As was the arrangement last year, the cars will be driven by valets from the staging area to Port Jefferson High School, where they will be parked.

An agreement between the BID and Port Jefferson School District remains in place, in which the valet company, Advanced Parking Service, will take 75 percent of profits, leaving the remaining 25 percent to be split evenly between the village and school district. The BID supplied an upfront investment to get the program going for 2018. BID President Tom Schafer said the organization determined it would need about 120 cars to use the service daily to cover the cost of five employees for the company, and anything more than 120 would result in the program turning a profit.

“The village has a responsibility to look at all ways and solutions to bring optimal parking options to its visitors and residents and reduce ‘parking anxiety.’”

— Kevin Wood

Schafer said he and the BID’s members were glad to hear the program would be given another opportunity with a full season and with what all stakeholders view as a more practical staging area. Port Jeff’s board of trustees approved the use of the Village Hall lot during a meeting May 21. Multiple meetings took place between the end of the program last year and its ultimate renewal between representatives of the BID, Wood and village elected officials to work out some of the issues that arose in 2017.

“I wouldn’t be doing this if not for the fact that we have Kevin Wood as our parking administrator,” Mayor Margot Garant said during a May 7 board meeting.

Schafer also touted Wood’s involvement as an asset this time around.

“Everyone’s ecstatic,” Schafer said of the BID members. “Kevin Wood has been a great help. He understands that there’s just too many cars.”

The village has also approved hiring two parking ambassadors for this summer, who will be tasked with occupying lots to help parkers use meters, the village’s parking specific mobile phone application and to direct them to available spaces.

The continuation of the project will ultimately be determined by the village, which included a provision in its resolution to terminate the program “at any time or for any reason.”

Valet parking will be available in Port Jeff from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Parking spots in the Brookhaven Town Marina lot were given to Port Jeff Village as part of a 2015 agreement, but the deal alienated parkland, according to the AG's office. Screen capture

To accommodate the sale of a Brookhaven Town-owned building within Port Jefferson Village jurisdiction, the entities reached an intermunicipal agreement in 2015 to swap parking spaces. An informal opinion from the attorney general’s office dated Dec. 13, 2017 has left the deal in limbo.

Brookhaven sold the property on the corner of Main and East Main streets to private developer Agrino Holdings LLC. The developer has since turned the space into first floor retail with apartments above. The change of use of the building triggered a requirement within village code for additional parking, but downtown Port Jeff has a perennial parking problem, with a constant space shortage that can make it difficult for new developments to meet village code requirements. To offset the lack of spaces, the town reached an agreement with the village on a parking space swap — giving the village control of spots at the town-owned marina lot overlooking Port Jefferson Harbor in exchange for spots behind what was previously First National Bank of Port Jefferson and the town tax receiver’s office.

Upon hearing of the agreement at a village board meeting, Michael Mart, a longtime village resident and former member of Port Jeff’s parking committee, said he had some questions. Mart said he believed the deal created an alienation of parkland, as the town-owned spots were meant for boat trailer parking at the marina and boat launch. He took the issue to other interested Brookhaven Town residents who joined up for his cause, and after some back-and-forth in a series of letters to the editor in The Port Times Record by both Mart and Village Mayor Margot Garant, in April 2016, the town attorney’s office requested an informal legal opinion from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asking, “Must the Town of Brookhaven seek legislative approval for the alienation of parkland for an intermunicipal agreement with the Village of Port Jefferson to maintain and control 30 vehicular stalls at a Town marina?”

In Kathryn Sheingold’s response for Scheniderman in December, the New York state assistant solicitor general in charge of opinions vindicated Mart’s contention.

“We are of the opinion that because land currently dedicated to park purposes — parking for the marina — would be made available for parking for other than park purposes, that is, general municipal parking, the change would constitute a diversion of park property that must be authorized by the Legislature before it can occur,” she wrote.

Englebright said in an interview last week he would not support legislation that results in the alienation of parkland.

“I’m open to a conversation if someone can persuade me that the precedent being set is good, but at the moment, from what I see, this is [not a good outcome], despite everyone being of good intent,” he said if he were to receive legislation for the swap as initially crafted. “My door is always open, but I’m very cautious about messing around with parkland.”

Port Jeff Village Attorney Brian Egan said the village has been in touch with the town attorney’s office and the sides are evaluating options, though he does expect an agreement will be reached to rectify the situation, and the sale of the building will not be voided.

““The fact of  the matter is that this informal opinion is only an opinion,” Egan said. “The town attorney and village attorney respectfully disagree with this non-binding opinion on the attorney general’s opinion of the facts and the law. [The document] is not the pinnacle of clarity if this transfer of parking for parking constitutes alienation … I’m confident with the creativity of the town and the village we will come up with a solution.”

Village Deputy Mayor Larry LaPointe said in a statement Egan is reviewing the opinion and the village will decide if any further action is necessary. Brookhaven Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto offered a statement on the matter through a town spokesperson.

“The town will not be seeking alienation,” she said.

A legal battle could ensue should the municipalities fail to reach an agreement.

This post was updated Jan. 29 to correct Michael Mart’s course of action in 2016. This post was updated Jan. 30 to amend Brian Eagen’s quote and to include a statement from Annette Eaderesto.

Mount Sinai resident Michael Cherry arrives to be the first customer of the valet parking service in Port Jeff in July 2017. File photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

With the conclusion of a trial valet parking program in Port Jefferson Village, which along the way included input from members of the Port Jefferson Business Improvement District, The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, village government, the Port Jefferson Fire Department, residents, the Port Jefferson School District and restaurant owners, a resonating theme has emerged: It was a good idea that needs work if it will be brought back in 2018.

Tommy Schafer, restaurant owner, village resident and PJBID president, said in a phone interview the program fell short of reaching its break-even point for  PJBID’s initial investment with the valet company. He said about 150 people used the service on average each weekend at a rate of $7 per car. When the program began Schafer said if the service drew 100 users nightly it would be a profitable venture.

“It was some sort of step towards a solution,” he said. “The upside of it is everyone who used it thought it was the best thing ever. We got praise for trying an idea like this. Hopefully next year we can go back to the table with a better plan.”

John Urbinati, owner of The Fifth Season restaurant, expressed a similar sentiment.

“It’s a big project,” he said in a phone interview. “It was a lot of people working on it and any time you have any sort of new projects or new activities … nobody has the foresight to get it totally right the first time.”

He added the plan will be to look at ways to streamline the service in the lead up to the summer of 2018 with an eye toward improvement — not disbanding the program.

The route valets took to park cars during the summer of 2017. Image by TBR News Media

Restaurant owners who were involved in the planning of the program this past summer and others who were not said they were glad valet parking was tried as a fix to an age-old problem in Port Jeff. The service began in July after a group of business owners announced their intentions to pursue the program to the village board once PJBID reached an agreement with the private valet company and the Port Jeff school district, which allowed cars to be parked in the vacant high school lot during the summer. It concluded after Labor Day weekend.

Logistical issues occurred along the way, including complaints from residents about the route drivers would take upon exiting the municipal lot off Maple Place behind Ruvo East restaurant where customers were staged before their cars were taken to the high school; a lack of signage at the entrance of the lot off Maple Place which historically had been a two-way entrance and was repurposed as a one-way, exit only during the program’s hours of operation; traffic on the street, which is also the site of the fire department; not enough promotion of the program to make visitors aware of it; and a disruption of the regular uses of the lot behind Ruvo East, among others.

Sound Beach resident Arthur Rasmussen was critical of the program in an August letter to the editor after he was instructed to use the valet service to visit Ruvo East when he complained the staging area was blocking handicapped parking for the restaurant.

“We were so incensed by this ‘shakedown’ that we called the restaurant and cancelled our reservation and drove to a restaurant in Mount Sinai,” he said. “My wife is on a walker and that particular handicapped spot gives her easier access to the restaurant. I thought that the valet parking program was voluntary and not designed to cause hardship on handicapped seniors.”

Initially the village was not going to be involved in the operation of the program, but because the staging area is a village lot its approval was required. Restaurant owners and director of operations of The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce Barbara Ransome said the program would likely benefit with more village input.

“I would like to see it continue, I think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” she said. “They have to have better [public relations], better advertising and for God’s sake more signage. There aren’t many options out there. I think this is one that could work, it’s just got to be looked at.”

Village Mayor Margot Garant and deputy mayor and trustee, Larry LaPointe, could not be reached for comment regarding the village’s involvement with the project going forward.

The program was set up to be cost neutral for the village. Had revenue exceeded the initial investment, 25 percent of profits would have gone to the valet company and the remaining 75 percent would have been split between the school district and village.

Supervisor Frank Petrone. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

For residents of Huntington continuously discouraged with a lack of parking, help appears to be on the way.

At the last town board meeting officials took a step toward construction of a parking structure in the village by approving the second phase of a feasibility study looking into the physical and financial aspects of the project.

Level G Associates of Old Bethpage completed the first phase of the project, and the board voted to extend their contract to continue their work. In a May report, Level G concluded it was both physically and economically feasible to construct a 528-space parking deck above part of the current municipal parking lot between New and Green streets. In the second phase of the study, Level G will finalize the various models, estimates and projections used to draw its preliminary conclusions.

Phase two will include a functional plan for the proposed deck, financing models and revenue projections. The expanded final report is expected to be suitable for submission to financial institutions and other stakeholders involved in funding and financing the project.

Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said he’s happy to see a plan residents have requested for years moving forward.

“This is an exciting next step in bringing the town closer to a long-term solution for the parking issues in Huntington village,” he said in a statement. “The question of whether to build a parking structure has been discussed for many years, and the fact that we are moving into a detailed study of how to make it happen represents significant progress.”

Moving forward with the second phase of this project is the latest measure undertaken by the town to address the shortage of parking in Huntington village. The measures have included forming the Huntington Village Parking Consortium, which includes the town, the Economic Development Corporation, the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce, the Huntington Village Business Improvement District and the Paramount Theater.

Other measures recommended in a study the consortium commissioned a few years ago have included instituting tiered pricing for metered parking spots, improving signage to direct motorists to municipal parking lots and a pilot valet parking program. The consortium also evaluated requests for proposals that explored possible public partnerships and a mixed-use structure before opting to consider a public project for a parking-only structure.

Finding a parking spot in Port Jefferson is often difficult, but a valet parking service could change things. File photo

By Alex Petroski

Restaurant owners in Port Jefferson Village brought forth an idea to the board that might help to alleviate one of its oldest and most challenging problems. In a June 4 letter to other business owners in the village, John Urbinati, owner of The Fifth Season restaurant, announced his intentions, along with other members of the Pro Port Jefferson Association to propose a communal valet parking system. Several restaurant owners attended a June 5 public board meeting to announce their intentions and allow the community to weigh in.

The proposed system would be a contract between the Port Jefferson Business Improvement District and the Port Jefferson School District. Currently the plan would see the municipal parking lot on Maple Avenue across the street from the fire department used as a staging area for downtown visitors.

Cars would be dropped off at that spot, parked at Earl L. Vandermuelen High School, then picked up from the same spot. The service would cost drivers $7. The pilot program will take place during the summer months until Labor Day on Fridays and Saturdays from 4 p.m. to midnight, and Sundays from noon to 11 p.m.

“Parking is the number one issue that affects our bottom line as business owners,” Urbinati’s letter said. “There are not enough parking spaces in the village we love and try to succeed in and customers are turned off when they get tickets. Anytime there are village events going on there are no spaces available.”

Tom Schafer, owner of Schafer’s and Tommy’s and president of the Port Jeff BID, did a bulk of the speaking on behalf of the restaurant owners during the meeting.

“Regardless of anyone’s opinion on what the vision for the future of the village is, the one thing everybody seems to be in agreement on is that there’s not enough parking,” he said. “Maybe there’s going to be hovercrafts in the future, I have no idea, but for now, traffic is a foregone conclusion.”

Many village residents in attendance pushed back against the idea because of the possible increase of traffic on their streets, and because of a lack of public notice or input prior to the imminent implementation of the program, though no date is currently set for its inception.

“Did anybody think to ever let the people know that live on those streets, that buy the houses on those streets, so they can get to know they’re going to have traffic coming and going at all hours,” Marge McCuen, longtime village resident, said. “Each and every property owner is funding what goes on in this village with our taxes. A public hearing should have been held before you ever came up with this. You might have had this grand plan, and I’m not questioning your motives, but don’t question ours either.”

Another village resident asked that studies be done on how often parking is totally unavailable and how much traffic actually flows on the streets proposed for usage prior to the pilot program to see what the impact might be. Village Mayor Margot Garant said she did not anticipate the village committing funds to study that data.

“We’re interested in pursuing this because we think it’s necessary,” she said. “We have an obligation to support the new stores. There are new people making investments in this community every single day and they’re helping us make this community a vibrant and healthy community.”

The program would be cost neutral for the village, and should revenue exceed the initial investment by Advanced Parking Services, the valet company in agreement with the BID, 25 percent of profits would go to the company and the remaining 75 percent would be split between the school district and village. The approximately 300 employees of the restaurants would also use the valet system for their shifts.

Trustee Bruce D’Abramo also voiced vigorous support for the idea.

“I, for one, say if the ‘i’s’ are dotted and the ‘t’s’ are crossed we have to give this thing a chance,” he said.

No official vote was taken during the meeting after a lengthy discussion between several residents and business owners.

This version was updated following the June 5 board meeting.

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Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone presents a $250,000 check to officials from Port Jefferson Village for a revitilization project at the railroad station. Photo by Alex Petroski

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) stopped by Port Jefferson Station Jan. 19 to drop off a very generous gift. As part of the county’s Jumpstart program, an initiative established to fund infrastructure improvements for transit-oriented areas, Bellone presented a check for $250,000 to Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant for renovations slated for the Port Jefferson Long Island Rail Road station.

“We have to make our region more attractive [to young people],” Bellone said in an interview. “If we’re going to bring young people back to this region, we have to deliver the things that they need and want.”

The plan for the Jumpstart money is to redevelop parking lots around the train station to increase spots and improve safety in the area. To receive the actual grant money the village must first spend $250,000 on the project before receiving a full reimbursement, according to Nicole Christian who is responsible for writing and obtaining grants for the village. Port Jefferson Village is also in the process of an urban renewal project that would address vacant and blighted buildings on Main Street in Port Jefferson Station. Both projects are part of Garant and the village’s master plan to revitalize upper Port Jefferson and turn it into a more appealing “gateway” for the harborfront village.

Bellone and Mayor Margot Garant look over the area set for improvements. Photo by Alex Petroski

“We’re working with all of these different agencies — largely state agencies — but to have the county executive and the county behind us giving us this kind of money, they’re investing in what we’re doing here,” Garant said in an interview. “They see the big picture and I think that’s one of the things that made Steve a little unique in his role as county executive. He’s done this before in other areas and he knows what needs to be done. This isn’t a lot of money coming from the county level, but it’s a lot. Every little bit helps us. Just getting this is extremely important.”

Bellone commended Garant for her leadership and vision in Port Jefferson Station.

“I think, clearly this is a model and every time you see a project like this it is [the] local leadership driving it forward that is indispensible to making it happen and making it a success,” he said. “Local leadership is indispensible and partnerships between different levels of government, the private sector, universities — coming together and working together to do something that’s important for the local community and for the region.”

Fifth District Leg. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) also praised Garant’s dedication to the revitalization of Port Jefferson Station.

“She’s been working a long time to make this happen,” Hahn said. “To have the dedication and commitment to work on a project for the amount of time and to keep at it, to see it through to now at a point where things are going up, things are getting built, we’re breaking ground on the whole vision and it takes someone special to see something through to the end.”

Hahn said she is also excited for the progress being made within her district.

“I think it’s critically important the county is investing in these types of projects, especially a transit-oriented development where we are focusing our redevelopment in an area that has access to public transportation, that makes much needed housing available for the university one stop away, that supports economic development on a number of levels,” she said.

Garant said the plan is to put the project out for bid and to begin work in the coming months.

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