By Alex Petroski

Thanks to the start of a pilot program this past weekend, one of the most difficult aspects of life in Port Jefferson Village was a little easier. Finding parking has long been a complaint of visitors to Port Jeff, especially during the summer months. In an effort to address the problem, a joint venture valet parking service spearheaded by the Business Improvement District, the village and the Port Jefferson School District kicked off July 14.

According to Tommy Schafer, restaurant owner, village resident and BID president, 12 drivers utilized the service on July 14, 51 on July 15 and 12 on July 16, during the first weekend of its availability. He added the service operated without incident during the three-day span.

The route valets will take to park cars at once the system is implemented. Image by TBR News Media

“Overall it went well,” Schafer said in a phone interview. “Every time something new happens you expect an adjustment period.”

Port Jeff Deputy Mayor and Trustee Larry LaPointe, who also serves as the board’s liaison to the parking committee, said during a public board meeting July 17 he received correspondence from the Port Jefferson Fire Department with concerns about a lack of signage.

The entrance to the municipal lot across from the fire department on Maple Place was supposed to operate as a “one-way” street during the hours of operation of the service, with cars only being allowed to exit the lot via Maple. A “Do not Enter” sign was also expected to be at the Maple Place entrance to the lot but was not there, according to LaPointe. A phone message requesting comment left at the fire department was not returned.

Schafer said the problem will be discussed during a scheduled meeting of all of the interested parties, which took place during the afternoon July 19.

Michael Cherry, a Mount Sinai resident, was the first customer of the service just after 4 p.m. July 14.

“Anywhere that has a lot of people you’re going to have that issue [of not being able to always find a convenient parking spot],” he said, though he added he frequently visits the village to patronize the restaurants, and parking has never deterred him from coming. “We were going to come down here no matter what so it doesn’t even matter.”

LaPointe said he hoped in coming weeks employees at the restaurants would push the service to customers while taking reservations to try and boost usage numbers.

“If you know a little bit about our history you know we’ve struggled with parking for many years in the village. This we believe is one way we can help alleviate some of those problems.”

— Roger Rutherford

The service is functioning pursuant to a contract between the BID and the school district. The lot on Maple Place across the street from the fire department is used as a staging area. Cars are dropped off at that spot, parked at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, then picked up from the same spot. The service costs drivers $7. The program is available during the summer months until Labor Day on Fridays and Saturdays from 4 p.m. to midnight, and Sundays noon to 11 p.m.

Valets take cars from the lot behind Ruvo restaurant and bar, take a left on Maple Place, a right on Main Street, a right to cross over Barnum Avenue and a left into the high school lot. To return cars to the staging area for pick up, valets exit at the opposite end of the lot onto Old Post Road then take a left on Main Street and a left onto Wynn Lane to re-enter the municipal lot. Valet drivers do not use Barnum Avenue, Tuthill Street or Spring Street, three residential roads, which were discussed as possible routes during the June board meeting, according to Garant. Excess traffic on residential streets received strong pushback from members of the community.

The program is 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.

Roger Rutherford, general manager of The Port Jefferson Frigate, was present for the kick off of the service July 14.

“If you know a little bit about our history you know we’ve struggled with parking for many years in the village,” he said. “This we believe is one way we can help alleviate some of those problems.”