Sag Harbor Village officials partnered with the Chamber of Commerce on a poll sent to local businesses on Wednesday morning, asking for input on different strategies village board members have discussed as a means of protecting public health with the eventual re-opening of Main Street while the COVID-19 virus outbreak is ongoing.
The poll asks about the potential elimination of parking on Main Street or reductions in the amount of time vehicles can remain parked — the limit for most spaces is currently two hours — as well as whether the village should consider expanding outdoor dining options, create public areas with spaced seating, distribute masks, remove benches or picnic tables, limit businesses to a specific number of customers and asks for suggestions.
This comes after preliminary recommendations were made last Friday by task forces charged with creating plans for how to plan for more businesses reopening this summer, as well as how to protect public health at village-owned parks and Havens Beach. The Village Board was expected to continue that discussion Wednesday afternoon.
On Friday, Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy called on residents and business owners to remain open-minded as the village seeks to balance the need to protect public health while also supporting the local economy.
“We are working hard to find that right balance, and I think everyone has to find that balance for themselves as well,” she said.
“Rather than thinking about social distancing,” she added, “I think we need to think about physically distancing but socially uniting … I think we need a lot of open-mindedness at this time to hear everyone’s ideas and not react. And I know I am often very quick to react.”
“The main goal is the health of the citizenry and we must be sure to protect our first responders. Not far behind, we need to ensure the survival and vitality of our businesses” said board member Bob Plumb, tasked with leading the task force that is making recommendations specific to businesses reopening on Main and Bay streets.
“Anything we come up with here needs to be done before Memorial Day weekend, or very soon,” he added.
Mr. Plumb noted that the COVID-19 pandemic and how the village must respond to it will be fluid in many ways. “We have to be prepared to take action beyond what is discussed here — we could end up banning parking or cars altogether based on the observation of how crowds are developing,” he said.
Most important, Mr. Plumb said, was ensuring people wear masks downtown.
“They get us the biggest bang for the buck,” he said, noting in addition to “The Mask Project,” a campaign designed by Bob Weinstein expected to launch this weekend, the village will either need to find funding to pass out masks, consider a vending machine and should also work with stores to make sure they have masks either for sale or available for customers.
While stores will likely be limited in how many customers they can have inside at any given time, Mr. Plumb said the building department should look at occupancy limits already in place and that the village could consider a fixed number — between 50 percent or 30 percent of occupancy allowed under the fire code, for example.
While the village had initially talked about limiting parking altogether as a potential in an effort to allow people more room to social distance themselves, the Task Fork instead recommended removing parking from two places — from Sag Pizza down to Buddha Berry and near Sen Japanese Restaurant, noting they are two places where people have tended to gather on relatively narrow sidewalk. That would remove between 18 and 20 parking spaces from Main Street.
The Task Force also suggested 30-minute parking limits could promote turnover and stencils directing pedestrian traffic through congested areas. Public bathrooms at Marine Park should be limited to one person at a time, with hand sanitizer stations replacing air hand dyers. Porta-potties could also be used, said Mr. Plumb, who also suggested removing some benches from Main Street and spacing them out in Marine Park and Steinbeck Park as another way of offering greater sidewalk area for pedestrians.
Asking buses, including the Hampton Jitney, to stop picking up and dropping off on Main Street was another recommendation made by the Task Force.
Village Attorney Denise Schoen recommended the village get guidance from the county and state on what kind of limitations stores will be asked to have in terms of customers rather than coming up with its own figure.
“I am concerned we don’t have the scientific background ourselves to make that decision,” she said.
On Tuesday, Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce President Lisa Field — a member of the Task Force and also the longtime owner of the village’s iconic Variety Store — said she was opposed to removing parking from Main Street and that many business owners, some of whom have had to close their doors for two months now, are concerned if that happens, it will further impact what has already been a devastating year for local businesses.
“It’s assumed that we all want people to be healthy and safe on our Main Street — that is a top priority for everyone,” she said. “But how do we open Main Street, open these businesses, many who were shocked when we were first told they were going to be closed two weeks. That turned into four weeks and six weeks and now we are at eight weeks.”
The Variety Store, she noted, has remained open, while many have had to stay closed. She urged the village to proceed cautiously with any plans to take away parking.
“The most frustration for me is it seems like this is becoming an opportunity to create or try to make Sag Harbor the town people think it should be, where you can stroll and walk down Main Street, but we are already a functioning Main Street,” she said.
Ms. Field said she supported the idea of limiting parking to an hour or half-hour to keep people moving, but expressed concern that cordoning off parking spaces would only create more room for people to congregate and would draw people to those areas.
“I am not an expert on this, and I am giving the village a lot of credit, but what is the easiest thing to do here? If you need more room on the sidewalks, get rid of the benches,” she said. “The next easiest thing is to make it a quicker turnaround with a half-hour or hour limitation on parking.”
“Everyone is doing what they can right now and we will be diligent,” she added. “I am constantly monitoring how many people are in the store and asking people to leave when they have paid … for the businesses that have had to stay closed, losing Memorial Day weekend is a huge, huge blow. We all want to be open and we all want to stay safe.”