Sag Harbor Pulls Back On Paid Parking Proposal

An early rendering of the new Long Wharf, where paid parking could arrive in time for this summer. Courtesy Edmund Hollander Landscape Architects.

A proposal to initiate seasonal paid parking for about 25 percent of the parking spaces in downtown Sag Harbor, championed by Trustee Aidan Corish, who has said it could easily generate up to $1 million in much needed revenue, has been pruned back significantly.

Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy and Mr. Corish announced on Monday that the Village Board would roll out a scaled-back pilot program that would limit paid parking to 94 spaces on Long Wharf, about 10 percent of the total downtown, and reduce fees to no more than $4 an hour. The proposal will be the subject of a public hearing before the board at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, February 9.

“As trustees, we are supposed to lead, but we are also supposed to listen,” said Mr. Corish. “And this seemed like the perfect compromise.”

He said it had become clear that village residents were not ready to take the plunge into paid parking and that was made evident by comments at a January 27 work session, social media posts, and conversations he had with people around town.

“It’s more important that this is successful, two years, three years, four years from now,” he added. “Because this is a long-term plan, I’d hate to see it stumble from the start.”

“It will be a good way to test the app,” Mayor Mulcahy said, referring to the smartphone app administered by ParkMobile the village plans to use for the project. She said having a limited rollout would reduce revenue but, if things go well, it might also lessen objections to the plan.

Under the new proposal, all spaces on Long Wharf will be free each morning until 10 a.m. Anyone who parks between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. will be limited to a three-hour stay, and anyone who parks after 6 p.m. will have the option of remaining for five hours.

Both during the day and evening periods, the first hour will be free and each additional hour will cost $4. That’s a major reduction from the original proposal which called for a fee of $8 for the third hour during the day and $12 and $16 for the fourth and fifth hours at night.

Although the village had originally planned to give village residents a 25 percent discount, that has been shelved for now because Village Attorney Denise Schoen advised the board it would not be allowed to give discounts for parking fees on public streets.

First responders will be allowed to park for free as originally proposed, and the paid program will be in effect from the Thursday before Memorial Day through the Tuesday following Columbus Day.

Those who park, even if they are going to stay for less than an hour, must download the ParkMobile app. Concerns had been raised that senior citizens and others without smartphones might be shut out, but Ms. Mulcahy said the village dockmaster’s office and dockhands and traffic control officers on Long Wharf would have phones available so people could call a toll-free number to register their vehicle with ParkMobile.

Mr. Corish said he was optimistic that limited paid parking would win public support once people realize that “every dollar earned will be one less dollar that needs to be collected through property taxes.”

He said after listening to objections raised about the program, he realized the Village Board had gotten too far ahead of the public. He pointed out that introducing a paid parking program was first aired a year ago at a Village Board meeting. But the coronavirus pandemic arrived a month later, putting the initiative on the back burner.

At last week’s work session, Mr. Corish said paid parking would help the village pay for a number of initiatives, from adding sidewalks and bike lanes, to improving stormwater drainage. He argued the village could not pass up the opportunity to take advantage of a new funding source, reasoning that with COVID-19 having laid waste to the state budget, the prospect for future grant money was slim.

“We are hoping through this we can raise a certain amount of revenue from our visitors” during the summer season, he said. “So when they leave, there is something left for the people who live and use this village all year-round.”

There was some pushback to the idea. Gavin Menu, the president of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce, who is also Co-Publisher of The Express News Group, said that while a survey of chamber members and commercial property owners showed they were evenly split on the topic of paid parking, a majority of respondents favored a slower phase-in and wanted to see paid parking limited to Long Wharf the first season to gauge its impact on businesses.

Three residents, Susan Henriques, Renee Simons, and Neil Bersin, urged the village to make parking free for residents perhaps by issuing them permits for their vehicles. They all said it would be unfair to place the burden on those who already paid property taxes.

Trustee James Larocca, who earlier likened the parking proposal to a regressive tax on working-class families who are least able to afford it, also opposed the original proposal.

“I don’t want to be the skunk at the garden party,” he said following a detailed presentation from Mr. Corish, “but I think this is too much, too fast.”

He urged the board to slow down the process to obtain more public input and suggested the public did not support the plan. “I’ve only had one letter directed to me as a trustee in support of this,” he said. “I’ve had perhaps at this point 18 to 20 that are vigorously opposed.”

Mr. Larocca repeated his concern that paid parking would have an unfair financial impact on families, who might like to visit the village on a summer night, and he added that it could have a negative impact on the village’s charm and character.

Trustee Thomas Gardella said it was important to wait for the hearing. “I look forward to hearing input from the residents,” he said. “I think they need to approve or disapprove this whole project.”

Trustee Bob Plumb said it was worth a try. “As a round number, if you grossed a million dollars that’s $500 per inhabitant,” he said, suggesting that would be a good return. Besides, he said, it the plug could be pulled any time if the system proves to be problematic.