As part of an ongoing effort to keep the streets of Sag Harbor safe, and to help struggling businesses survive in the age of the coronavirus, the Village Board on Wednesday, June 17, discussed — and rejected — two proposals designed to reduce crowding on downtown sidewalks and give restaurants a little more space to have outdoor seating.
A total of 12 businesses, including takeout food retailers, have asked permission under new temporary guidelines to allow them to serve food outside, but Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy said two restaurants on the west side of Main Street, LT Burger and Lulu’s, as well as Il Cappuccino on the west side of Madison Street are stymied by narrow sidewalks.
Although Lulu currently has two tables set off behind plexiglass barriers, the other restaurants do not have any tables outside
The idea, she said, would be to block off a limited number of parking spaces in front of those businesses, so they could have enough space to put tables outside, while maintaining the required 6 feet of clearance.
“Pedestrians would be detoured out into parking spaces” in front of those businesses, the mayor said.
“A lot of other villages and towns have come up with plans to help these people,” she added.
In Greenport, for instance, the village has temporarily banned parking on one side of its main street, and East Hampton Village has blocked off spaces in front of Cittanuova on Newtown Lane, allowing it to add outdoor tables.
Other board members quickly threw cold water on the idea. Trustee James Larocca, who first questioned whether the village had uniform standards for how it would deal with such requests, was also worried about liability.
“I’d like to have some comfort from our insurer and our counsel that we are okay from a liability point of view,” he said, asking if Village Attorney Denise Schoen could write such a letter.
“If you are going to ask me to try to draft a letter saying we are not going to get sued if something goes wrong,” she replied, “that letter doesn’t exist.”
“Even if we could get an okay from our insurance company, would we want to do it?” asked Trustee Bob Plumb.
Trustee Thomas Gardella was also opposed. “I’m definitely not in favor of moving people out into the street,” he said. “It’s a safety issue.”
Trustee Aidan Corish added his voice to the chorus. He said forcing pedestrians into the street was a recipe for trouble, “where people would be expected to step off the curb and step back up again.” He said envisioned someone who had consumed a “couple of cocktails” being “expected to negotiate a curb as part of their walk.”
Mayor Mulcahy, saying “people are getting a little lax, without a doubt,” when it comes to wearing masks or keeping a safe distance from one another, asked her fellow board members to weigh in on the idea of making downtown sidewalks one-way.
“We’re only two-tenths of a mile and there are a number of crosswalks,” she said, suggesting limiting pedestrians to one direction might ease some of the bottlenecks occurring on the sidewalks.
“How do we communicate this?” asked Mr. Corish, adding the village already has a hard enough time getting people to wear masks.
“Do we stop everyone who is walking the wrong direction and have them turn around?” he asked.
Mr. Corish said it would needlessly gum up the works by requiring someone who had just parked their car a space or two beyond a store they wanted to patronize to walk to the next crosswalk and retrace their steps on the other side of the street until they got to a crosswalk that would allow them to approach the store from the proper direction.
Mr. Corish was joined by Trustees Larocca and Gardella in opposing the idea.
“I don’t think this has anything going for it,” said Mr. Larocca, while Mr. Gardella said he agreed with Mr. Corish that it would be unenforceable.
Trustee Robert Plumb offered some support for the proposal, suggesting it would bring home the seriousness of being vigilant against a flare up of the virus to visitors and residents who might not otherwise be taking that threat seriously.