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Parking

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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Meters in Port Jefferson. File photo by Elana Glowatz

The holidays have come early for anyone who has experienced the frustration of circling Main Street, to Arden Place, to East Main Street, to East Broadway and back to Main Street countless times in search of Port Jefferson’s most sought-after natural resource — a free parking space.

In keeping with annual tradition, Mayor Margot Garant announced the suspension of metered parking in village lots effective Dec. 5 through March 15, 2017, in a video posted on Port Jeff’s website, which had more than 27,000 views at the time of publication. Parking in a village-metered lot ordinarily costs 25 cents per half hour and is enforced from 10 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week. Parking on village streets is free, though there are varying time restrictions in most areas. Port Jeff Village residents always park for free in metered lots with special stickers on their cars, and for the time being, non-residents are afforded the same luxury.

Garant said, at a board meeting earlier in December, the idea behind suspending metered parking is to encourage visitors in the winter months to shop at and patronize Port Jeff businesses in the traditionally warm-weather destination. She added that in previous years the suspension of metered parking has extended into April if the weather in the area is particularly damaging for businesses in a given winter season.

Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant announces the suspension of metered parking through March 15 in village lots. Photo from Port Jeff Village website

In the video, Garant watches kids ice skate at The Rinx located outside the Village Center. She then slides a blue cover over the meter in the parking lot adjacent to the ice rink.

“During the holiday season and during the winter months, come on down to the Village of Port Jefferson, come visit us, park for free, visit our restaurants and please support our local merchants,” Garant says in the video.

Revenue raised from metered parking is reinvested into various village projects, according to Garant. Deputy Mayor Larry LaPointe, who is also the board’s liaison to the parking committee, estimated the fund from parking meters has about $900,000 in it currently.

If it were unclear how big an issue parking is in Port Jefferson, on the village’s Port Jefferson Facebook page, the pinned post featuring the video had 480 shares and more than three times as many likes as any other post on the page in December. Comments on the post indicate most visitors to the village wish parking were free year-round, and others are more likely to visit because of the suspension.

“Love being down Port in the off season,” Yvette Ortiz-Baugh said.

One commenter suggested the difficult parking deters her from visiting the area.

“Parking has become a big nuisance and we go less often to shop there now,” Sue Korpus Ditkowsky said.

A map from the early 1960s includes proposed lots for a Port Jefferson parking district. Main Street runs down the middle. Photo from Port Jefferson Village historical archive

Woodard Square. Crystal Lake Square. If Port Jefferson residents hadn’t banded together to oppose their town, those would be the names of parking lots paved through the middle of a few downtown blocks.

In the early 1960s, Brookhaven Town officials had proposed a parking district in lower Port that would have called for several buildings to be demolished to make way for asphalt, according to the village historical archive. But Port Jefferson residents came together as a property owners association to defeat the idea.

A 1961 map depicting the proposed parking district shows a large lot called Loper-McNamara Square in the location where Port Jefferson’s biggest parking lot, referred to as the “Meadow lot,” is now; a Woodard Square lot on the south side of East Main Street, where it meets Main Street and where the post office and a few other businesses currently stand; a Davis Square lot at residential space between South and Spring streets, near High Street; a lot called Round the Block Square, where the village’s Traders Cove parking lot is now; and a Crystal Lake Square lot on the south side of Maple Place.

The plan was abandoned after homeowners, who were then living in an unincorporated village, reacted negatively to it and formed The Property Owners Association of Port Jefferson, according to the village archive.

A drawing depicts the proposed Woodard Square lot on East Main Street, with the old Baptist church pictured back center, as part of an idea for a Port Jefferson parking district. Photo from Port Jefferson Village historical archive
A drawing depicts the proposed Woodard Square lot on East Main Street, with the old Baptist church pictured back center, as part of an idea for a Port Jefferson parking district. Photo from Port Jefferson Village historical archive

The town, under the direction of former Supervisor August Stout Jr. and later Supervisor Charles R. Dominy, held public meetings at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, warranting the property owners to publish flyers that were a proverbial call to arms for neighbors.

“Port Jeff will be sold down the river unless you attend the official public hearing on the parking district,” read one flyer, in relation to a March 21, 1962, meeting. “This is it. Everyone concerned with this problem and the future of Port Jeff must be there.”

Another flyer said the homeowners supported improvement, but said about the parking district proposal, “No, no, no.”

The property owners association that helped derail the parking plan also championed the village’s incorporation.

Later in the same year as that meeting, on a snowy Dec. 7, 1962, residents voted 689-361 to incorporate Port Jefferson.

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Supervisor Ed Romaine listens to resident concerns at the town meeting. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Civic leaders in Three Village are calling on Brookhaven to put the brakes on a local law that could potentially limit the number of vehicles parked on town roads.

In an attempt to crack down on illegal rental housing in Brookhaven, elected officials mulled over a proposal at a work session late last month that would restrict the number of permitted vehicles at a rental house to one car per legal bedroom, plus one additional car. But Shawn Nuzzo, president of the Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook, said imposing “separate and unequal” laws would infringe on residents’ most basic rights as Americans by determining which Brookhaven natives would be allowed to park their vehicles on the street.

The civic president wrote a letter in opposition of the town’s proposal.

“While it is certainly in the town’s purview to determine how our roadways should be used, our laws should apply equally to all,” Nuzzo wrote in the letter. “It is unwise to create restrictive laws meant to apply only to certain members of our society — in this instance, based on their homeownership status.”

Nuzzo said he submitted his remarks on the law for the board to consider at its Sept. 17 meeting, when the town will look to add an amendment to Local Law 82 in the Brookhaven Town Code, which oversees rental registration requirements. The proposed vehicle restriction was only the latest in a string of initiatives the town put forward to prevent illegal housing rentals, including one measure that outlawed paving over front yards to make way for parking spaces.

The measures were borne out of an issue Bruce Sander, president of the Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners, helped bring to the forefront after communities in and around Three Village became hotspots for illegal or otherwise overcrowded rental homes filled with Stony Brook University students. Sander was only one of many Three Village natives to come out against the overcrowded housing debacle, citing quality of life issues such as noise and overflowing trash.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said at the Aug. 27 Town Board work session that he believed restricting the number of vehicles parked in front of rental homes could be a helpful tool in fighting illegal rooming houses.

“Normally, what we have to do is try to get inside to cite them, but to do that requires a search warrant, which judges are reluctant to give without probable cause,” Romaine said. “However, one of the other factors that these illegal rooming houses generate is the fact that there’s a lot of cars around. If we could control the number of cars, we would be better able to cite people.”

Looking ahead, Nuzzo said he planned on forwarding the proposal to the state attorney general’s office as well as the Southern Poverty Law Center to delve into the legality of a township restricting the number of vehicles parked in front of any given home, and whether or not the town can selectively enforce such a measure.

“If the Town Board feels street parking regulations are necessary, then those regulations should be implemented town wide,” Nuzzo said. “To target only certain residents for selective enforcement is un-American, and quite possibly illegal.”

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Spaces to be closed beginning Monday

Roped off parking spaces on the fourth level of the Huntington Long Island Rail Road train station's south parking garage earlier this year. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Portions of the Huntington Long Island Rail Road station’s south parking garage will be closed beginning Monday, Aug. 17, due to a waterproofing project that is “the last phase of the garage’s rehabilitation,” according to a Huntington Town statement.

The entire roof level of the five-level garage will be closed for about 24 days. Work will then continue to the lower levels, one at a time. As work commences on the lower levels — also for an estimated 24 days each — three-fourths of the affected level will be closed.

“Commuters are advised that parking should be available in the surface parking lot on the west side of New York Avenue between Railroad and Church streets, but that they should allow some extra time to walk to the station,” according to the statement.

Earlier this year, the town closed off 228 spaces at the garage as part of an emergency repair project. The upcoming waterproofing work, which was anticipated and not an emergency repair, is necessary because it “helps preserve the concrete” at the garage, town spokesman A.J. Carter said.

Petrone: RFP for parking garage coming soon

The Huntington Town Board authorized a $1.6 million purchase of property to create 66 additional parking spaces in Huntington village. Photo by Rohma Abbas

Huntington village’s parking pickle may soon become a little less of one.

On Tuesday, the town board green-lighted a $1.6 million purchase of property on West Carver Street to create about 66 new parking spaces in the village.

The board unanimously authorized Supervisor Frank Petrone or his representative to execute a contract to purchase a portion of the property at 24 West Carver St. from owner Anna Louise Realty II, LLC— right across the road from the New Street municipal parking lot. The money will be bonded for over a 10-year period, Petrone told reporters after the meeting.

It won’t be the only parking update in Huntington village this season. Petrone said the town is working with the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce and the Huntington Station Business Improvement District to draft a request for proposals to build a parking garage in town — an idea town officials and residents have mulled for years.

“It’s a beginning,” Petrone said. “We made a commitment that parking is a continuum. We changed the meters. We have a different approach. We restriped, we added more spots, we redid lots. And now this is adding like 66 more additional spots, which is pretty substantial given the fact of the needs in the town.”

Town officials are hoping to get the RFP out by the end of summer, Petrone said. Asked where the structure would be sited, the supervisor said there have been discussions about locating it at the New Street lot, right across from the 66 additional spaces.

If a parking structure is to be built, it is likely current spots would be closed down in the construction process. Part of the idea of purchasing the 66 spaces would be to help mitigate parking during the building of a structure, he said.

Town officials had explored creating a parking facility on Elm Street for years. Those ideas aren’t dead, Petrone said, but the feeling is the town might be able to get more spots out of the New Street location. “We begin with New Street,” he said. “I’m not saying Elm will not be looked at.”

Petrone said the town’s been thinking up creative ways to finance a parking structure. Asked how the town would pay for such a facility, Petrone said it could be a private project, with the town providing the developer with a lease to the land, or it could be a public-private partnership. If a private entity were to come in, it would have to be worthwhile to them financially. To that end, he said “we’ve heard all sorts of ideas,” like building apartments or shops into the structure — properties that could be rented out. He said officials have also explored whether the cost of parking in the structure would suffice in terms of paying the debt service on the bond off.

The supervisor said he’s also weighed creating a parking district for the whole village area, with businesses paying into it, “because it’s the cost of doing business, it basically will provide better parking in the village.”

The chamber of commerce has “played an integral part in the push for increased parking options” in the town over the last three years, according to David Walsdorf, a chamber board member and member of the Huntington Village Parking Consortium.

“We view the parking challenge as a positive reflection of the growth and vitality of our flourishing businesses and we continue to support further improvement in our infrastructure to meet the needs and sustainability of our community,” he said in a statement.

Chamber chairman Bob Scheiner praised the news.

“The Huntington Chamber of Commerce is proud to be a part of this parking consortium and we fully support the supervisor and town board in this acquisition, which will go a long way to help the parking situation in downtown,” he said in a statement “The chamber looks forward to the release of the RFP and thanks the board for their efforts.”

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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

Port Jefferson Village could add 50 more spaces to its metered parking arsenal, drawing them on asphalt in the town’s marina lot.

The village is leasing the spots as part of an agreement with Brookhaven Town regarding the historic First National Bank of Port Jefferson building at the corner of Main and East Main streets.

Town officials are selling the former bank — and the attached building on East Main Street that used to house the Brookhaven tax receiver’s office — to local developer Agrino Holdings LLC, which has approval from the Port Jefferson Planning Board to put retail space on the first floors and apartments above. The developer plans to renovate the tax receiver’s office and restore the bank building, a historic landmark.

But downtown Port Jefferson has a perennial parking problem, with a constant space shortage that can make it difficult for new developments to meet requirements in the village code. To offset the lack of spaces at the site of the mixed-use project, the town has been working with the village for more than a year on a parking space swap — leasing to the village some spots at the town-owned marina lot two blocks away.

The original plan involved the roughly 30 existing spaces that wrap around the old Suffolk County Water Authority building across West Broadway from McDonald’s. But Trustee Larry LaPointe explained at Monday’s board of trustees meeting that it would have involved “a spaghetti of easements and curb cuts.”

Instead the village will get land on the western end of the marina lot, near Beach Street, that it will restripe and meter. LaPointe said the size of that section will allow the village to create 50 new parking spaces, whereas the previous arrangement would have merely transferred ownership of 30 spots.

Revenue from the village’s other parking meters will cover the costs of restriping and adding the new meter.