Guest column: What future do we want?

As I stood on the side of Main Road and gazed towards what was once nearly 7 acres of grasses, trees and wildlife, I was struck by how quickly the bulldozers had done their work scraping the land of all life. All of this work done to build a luxury hotel catering to wealthy summer visitors.

Our community on the North Fork has choices and we need to decide how best to balance economic needs with that of being able to live here and deal with the critical environmental issues we are facing. Do we wish to continue to see nearly 60% of our workers driving in from Calverton and farther west? Should we continue to watch loved ones have to move away because they cannot find housing? One only needs to look to the South Fork to see our future if we do not try to find solutions for “housing people can afford”; and, put limits on the expansion of significant tourism developments that do not contribute to the betterment of our lands, waters and people who live here. How much more development can we sustain when we have neither the workers nor the infrastructure to support it?

The town spent considerable time and energy putting together a significant guide for its future with the 2020 comprehensive plan. As mayor of the Village of Greenport, it has been eye opening to participate in recent meetings on this subject and learn more about wider North Fork zoning. On Thursday, March 7, the village will be hosting a meeting for the town planning department to share information with the wider community on zoning around the village to the east, west and north of us. The experts in town planning will also be speaking at other meetings hosted by regional civic groups. I encourage everyone who can participate to do so and understand what can be built around us. It is time to set our priorities: housing or hotels?

I dream of a day in Greenport when our cold winter evenings are filled with families enjoying a film at the new North Fork Arts Center, s’mores and hot cocoa in Mitchell Park and someone playing a tune on a piano artistically painted with local sea creatures. What the community has also said is that they want to see more of them living downtown “above the shop” instead of driving from an hour away. Our choices are right in front of us and we need to prioritize creating housing people can afford, whether it be the conversion of a small garage to an accessory dwelling unit for one’s son who just returned from college or allowing a single family home to be preserved and changed to a two-family home. 

Moreover, putting limits on how many more expensive hotels are built when we have neither staff to support them nor the infrastructure to manage more summer tourism is a must. It is all about balance.

Our village board is working with our code committee and village residents to review changes to plan for a “year-round” and sustainable community while supporting and encouraging local business. This means hitting pause on sewer expansion while we work to review our infrastructure after a recent catastrophic break. This also means thinking thoughtfully about putting further limits on short-term vacation rentals; and, most importantly, finding ways to increase our affordable housing and making that a priority over other development. Recently, we adopted a zoning code encouraging housing over many commercial businesses where it was not allowed. We also put conditions that are more stringent on hotel development and eliminated them entirely from the waterfront commercial district as part of new zoning and our Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan.

Winter nights can and should be filled with people enjoying our village as a wonderful year-round community instead of just one catering to summer visitors with empty winter nights. We can do this together by prioritizing the environment, sustainable business alongside land and historic preservation, while also using smart zoning to find ways to encourage the development of housing people can afford.

Kevin Stuessi is the mayor of Greenport Village.

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