By Nicole Fuentes
Source: Long Island Advance
Earlier tonight, the Village of Patchogue board scheduled a public hearing to place a moratorium on all restaurants/bars/taverns/nightclubs, excluding the possibility of a hotel for Main Street and the surrounding downtown, for the last meeting of the month on Monday, Jan. 27.
“The Village needs to carefully weigh restaurant/bar uses against a more diverse Main Street experience,” said village attorney Brian Egan. “Our restaurants have been a key foundation to our downtown renaissance, but that comes with a cost to the Village in the form of parking and public safety.”
The effort has been a long time coming, explained mayor Paul Pontieri, who originally felt that government shouldn’t control property owners’ right to develop but felt forced for the sustainability of Main Street.
“There are a couple changes we are noticing on Main Street, in terms of a much younger and later crowd changing the dynamic,” he said, explaining that the deciding factor was the limited number of parking spaces. “We are still waiting on a decision from the county for the parking garage behind the courthouse. We still don’t have a firm decision on whether it can happen or not, and we can’t wait.”
Pontieri also made a recommendation to the board to enter into another contract with the company that conducted their parking study to have it make an evaluation for the best location for the garage. He suggested the Church Street lot, the Oak Street lot behind the Congregational Church or maybe Terry Street.
“We can’t wait any longer for the county to make up their minds,” he added, noting that a parking solution needs to be found sooner than later. “We are hoping this decision will push the county to either move the property along or just say no quickly so that we can move on.”
Additionally, in his decision, he said that empty spaces like Paradise Bridal and the Furman Building on West Main Street are currently open for development, leaving more opportunity for additional restaurants. The Long Island Advance counted a total of 44 restaurants/bars on and around Main Street as per an article featured on the front page last week.
“We really need to put this on hold,” Pontieri said, urging vacant building owners to seek dry uses. “It’s the numbers that really tell a story, and it isn’t until the obvious hits you between the eyes [that forces a decision.]”
However, according to Joel Furman, owner of the Furman building — which is currently being subdivided into three smaller spaces with two Main Street storefronts — the moratorium is unfair, causing Patchogue to become an “attractive nuisance” in terms of doing business.
“It defies the natural cause of commerce,” he said, concerned about the proposal. “Patchogue has become the most popular area to come for restaurants with the highest concentration of any village on Long Island. What’s wrong with that?”
According to Pontieri, though, after meeting with the restaurant committee arm of the Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce, current restaurant owners are on board with the moratorium.
And due to the lack of parking and the competition from the Blue Point Brewing Co., which is not only popular but has ample parking, Pontieri said, the businesses are hurting and forced to cater to later crowds. For example, earlier this month, Public House announced it will be changing its “format,” meaning more of a bar crowd and less of a restaurant.
“We have been asking for a moratorium for years,” said Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce executive director David Kennedy. “Parking is only getting worse, not better, and we really do need to hit the ‘pause’ button. A moratorium isn’t no — it’s just slow. The concept is to give the municipality time to analyze before (further) development.”
Immediately after the public hearing is held, the moratorium will go into effect for 18 months or until additional parking can be added.
“A restaurant, even just for their staff, uses far more parking than a retail shop or professional office,” Egan added. “This proposed moratorium is a good opportunity for the Village to reevaluate its path and fine tune it for greater success.”
Currently, Pontieri estimates that of the approximately 2,200 spaces, about 400–500 employees utilize about 25 percent of that.
“Back in the day, the parking was used for dry retail; that meant about three employees served about five customers. Now, there are about six to eight employees and about 25 customers per restaurant,” he said, noting that on the current path, Main Street is simply not sustainable anymore. “It’s about the sustainability of our downtown. That is our job, and we need to manage that.”