By Kathryn G. Menu
Sag Harbor is a village known for its waterfront, quaint shops and vibrant restaurant scene. On warm summer evenings, when Main and Bay streets are teeming with pedestrians, the most coveted seats at local eateries are often the ones located outdoors.
The village board on Tuesday received a report from planner Michael Schiano of Inter-Science Research Associates in Southampton, with recommendations on how the village can maintain outdoor seating without it making sidewalks virtually impassable.
In recent years, Sag Harbor Village has largely been supportive of outdoor dining. Under the current village code, restaurants are allowed outdoor seating, but limited in the amount they can offer patrons when the seating infringes on the sidewalk, which is village property. With annual board approval, restaurants can move 20-percent of their indoor dining seats outside April through October provided the seats are kept within the width of any restaurant building and do not extend more than six feet onto the sidewalk. Another provision in the code demands those seats can in no way impede pedestrian passage.
But that is not what happened this summer.
Madison & Main, at 126 Main Street, became one spot village officials began watching after the narrow strip of sidewalk became almost impassable once outdoor seats were added in front of the restaurant. Village officials moved a bench on the sidewalk to help accommodate pedestrians, but the space continued to prove problematic.
That address will now be home to Doppio East, an Italian bistro opening this summer. Like all restaurant owners hoping to secure outdoor seating this summer, the owners will need to petition the village board for approval. On Tuesday, Mayor Brian Gilbride said he would like to review Mr. Schiano’s recommendations and consider a work session on the subject of outdoor seating before a flood of applications are filed with the village clerk.
In the report, Mr. Schiano notes that outdoor dining is often a benefit to a community.
“These areas can provide restaurants with economic and aesthetic benefits, while also enhancing the character of local commercial districts,” he writes.
However, Mr. Schiano notes in his report that a majority of outdoor dining in Sag Harbor is in the public right-of-way, which is critical in maintaining the pedestrian-friendly feel of the village.
“Providing a comfortable walking environment to village visitors is important, as it encourages people to visit,” states the report. “If the sidewalk is not comfortable, it may deter people from visiting, which would affect other businesses, as well as the restaurants themselves.”
Inter-Science found four towns and five villages, including Sag Harbor, have provisions for outdoor seating in their codes. The Village of Westhampton Beach requires outdoor dining be located on restaurant property, and three of the nine municipalities specify how wide the pedestrian right of way should be, varying from 36-inches to six-feet. The Town of Huntington requires there be sufficient space for “at least two individuals walking side-by-side” and in Port Jefferson that village also mandates that pedestrian walkways and neighboring view sheds not be obstructed by outdoor seating.
Looking at this research, Inter-Science recommends that the village board consider requiring a minimum of four to six-feet of public sidewalk space to remain untouched by outdoor seating to ensure pedestrian access. Mr. Schiano also suggests that if the village wants to ensure those setbacks are met for each restaurant, despite benches, trees or other obstructions, it should commission the preparation of a map inventorying the street amenities in the village.
Former village administrator Sandra Schroeder wondered if there was any provision that would allow trustees to deny outdoor dining to a restaurant that has been cited for violations within the code. Mayor Gilbride said yes, and that areas that have proved problematic in the past would not likely see approval in the future.
“I remember last year people complaining that they had to walk in the roadway,” said Schroeder. “I just worry about people getting hurt.”
“I think we are going to have more to discuss and this is something we can work with when applicants come forward,” said Mayor Gilbride.
The village board has yet to broach the issue of restaurant seating in general despite a recent decision by the zoning board of appeals. In February, the ZBA suggested that Tutto il Giorno approach the village board rather than the ZBA in its quest for an additional 21 seats at the Bay Street Italian restaurant.
The request for a variance came after a ZBA decision late last year, which gave LT Burger on Main Street an additional 21 seats at its restaurant without requiring LT Burger to provide additional parking.
In order to legally add 21 seats at Tutto il Giorno, building owners Bay Partners LLC would need to either provide seven new parking spaces or earn a variance from the ZBA. Until 2009, the village allowed commercial property owners to pay into a parking fund when coming before the ZBA to seek a variance for parking. The applicant still had to show the ZBA the additional seating would not have a detrimental affect on the community, but if approved, it would be able to pay into a village fund earmarked to create more parking.
In 2009, however, the fund was abandoned during a village zoning code revision, as there were few ways to create more parking in the village.
On Wednesday, Mayor Gilbride said parking was an issue the village had to contend with, but panned rumors that the village board was considering reviving a proposal for a parking garage behind Main Street in the parking lot located on Bridge and Spring streets.
“We talked about that a long time ago,” he said. “I can’t speak for other board members, but I would say we haven’t been talking about that as an option.”
In other news, Sharone Einhorn, the co-owner of the antique store Ruby Beets, approached the board for the second year asking them to consider changing a Washington Street parking lot to a two-hour lot. Currently, vehicles can be parked in the lot for up to three-days. While the summer season has yet to begin, Ms. Einhorn said with construction of the Watchcase condominiums, parking is an issue.
“We can’t park now and I can’t imagine what will happen in the summer, especially with people coming to look at the condos,” she said.
“Our clients call us and say we cannot come to your store because we cannot park,” she added.
“I don’t think it is an unreasonable request and let’s see if we can get something done,” said Mayor Gilbride.
Ms. Einhorn urged the board to act sooner rather than later.
“All of us depend on the spring and summer seasons,” she said.