Some business owners and community members at a Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce dinner on Tuesday night criticized a proposal by the Hampton Jitney to begin a ferry service between Sag Harbor and Greenport villages this summer. They questioned whether it would benefit Sag Harbor businesses and its clientele or if it would instead clog village streets and parking spaces to the detriment of the local economy.
The event came in advance a Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees meeting next Tuesday, where that board will decide whether or not to allow the Jitney a four-month reprieve from the village’s ferry ban to see if the concept works for the community at large.
Last month, the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees introduced a local law to allow Hampton Jitney President Geoffrey Lynch to seek a temporary special permit to operate a passenger ferry terminal between May 1, 2012 and October 31, 2012 from the north end of Long Wharf.
Ferries are otherwise illegal in Sag Harbor.
According to Lynch, the ferry service will not begin until the end of June as he needs approvals from both the village and the county.
Lynch said he believes a pilot passenger ferry service, dubbed the Peconic Bay Water Jitney, could help reduce traffic and parking issues, but also help both villages’ economies. During a presentation at Tuesday night’s Chamber of Commerce dinner, Lynch said it would cost his company about $500,000 to run the ferry this season.
The Hampton Jitney has contracted to lease one low wake catamaran from New York Water Taxi that would seat 53 people.
Lynch has devised a shuttle service to connect Sag Harbor to Bridgehampton and East Hampton, which he says will reduce parking and traffic impacts.
On Tuesday night, Lynch said he was also working with the Sag Harbor School District to use their parking facilities as a hub for those wanting to drive to Sag Harbor to catch the ferry. Passengers would be shuttled in a Hampton Jitney 11-person shuttle, he said, from that parking lot to Long Wharf.
The proposal has largely had the support of the village board and Mayor Brian Gilbride.
On Tuesday night, both Lynch and his partner, Response Marine’s Jim Ryan, stressed this would be a pilot program and would only continue if it was something that worked for both Greenport and Sag Harbor villages. Lynch added if it was successful he would eventually seek to expand the passenger ferry service to other destinations on the East End and that it could become a part of a larger vision for public transportation on the East End.
Southampton Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming, a Noyac resident, questioned what kind of formal planning had been completed to look at the impact on parking from a local or regional perspective.
“We are very nervous about the parking impact,” she said.
Lynch said no formal study had been completed and that his company viewed this summer season’s pilot program as the best way to assess the impact of a passenger ferry.
Debbie Rudoy, owner of life’style fashion boutique said parking and traffic was also her concern. Rudoy said the loss of parking spaces while the former Bulova Watchcase Factory is reconstructed has already impacted parking in Sag Harbor.
“If there is more traffic it will put people off from coming here,” she said, adding she did not believe her clientele would use a shuttle service preferring the freedom of their own vehicles.
“I think it is not a good time to test this out,” added Rudoy.
Marianne Farrell, who will chef Livia Hegner’s new gourmet food store Pepalajefa, questioned if businesses would benefit from the ferry.
“We all know where our bread and butter comes from and it’s not from people using the ferries,” she said.
Lynch argued a comprehensive plan to deal with parking and traffic through initiatives like a passenger ferry service could aid everyone.
“The people in our shops are not going to take public transportation,” said Farrell. “It’s a lovely idea and a great service, but I don’t see the benefit.”
Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce member Robert Evjen said to alleviate parking and traffic concerns, the Jitney could create a shuttle system to Main Street from Havens Beach for all East End residents, not just those using the ferry.
“We are certainly open to that,” said Lynch.
Jacqueline Brody said her concern was the impact the ferry would have on the boating community.
“I look at this as a recreational advantage and helping to alleviate the parking and traffic problems,” said real estate agent Chip Dineen, an avid biker who said he uses public transportation.
Dineen added people seeking to go to the beaches in East Hampton could have an alternative way to get there without getting in their cars by using the ferry, decreasing traffic.
Former mayor Pierce Hance, who has staunchly opposed the concept, questioned why Lynch would use Sag Harbor instead of East Hampton and Southampton as its starting point.
Lynch said the dense population of Sag Harbor was why it was selected.
“And I think because we view Sag Harbor as a destination,” he said.
“If the negatives outweigh the positives, we will not continue to run this service,” added Lynch.
The Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees will hold a public hearing on the ferry concept at its Tuesday meeting at 6 p.m.