Village Session on Parking Yields Ideas for Short-Term Steps to Ease Problems

About 30 people, including the audience, took part in a free-wheeling discussion of parking problems and possible solutions at the September 25 Village Board work session. Peter Boody photo

A freewheeling discussion of Sag Harbor’s parking problems last week among members of the Village Board, a transportation advisory group that was set up in 2013 and several interested residents yielded possible short-term term solutions that Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy hoped could be implemented by next summer.

They included seeking an arrangement with the school district to use its nearly empty lots for municipal parking in the summer, with a shuttle service to take pedestrians back and forth to the business district; implementing various stalled plans to repaint the lines in some parking areas to yield more spaces; developing a parking app that could show drivers where spaces are open; and drafting a parking map and guide that would tell drivers where they might find a place to park.

“It’s such a fast, easy solution that makes so much sense,” Mayor Mulcahy said in a follow-up phone interview this week. The map would first appear online, and then would be distributed in a printed version beginning closer to the summer season, she said.

The map also could be printed on the back of parking tickets, half-joked Eric Cohen, who was representing the John Jermain Memorial Library at the discussion, which was the main item of business at the Village Board’s monthly work session on Wednesday, September 25.

Meanwhile, no one at the session raised a hand when Mayor Mulcahy asked if anyone supported the long-term option of building a two-story parking facility on the municipal lot behind Main Street.

Most of the year, “We have enough parking” to make such a major investment unnecessary, commented Bob Weinstein, who noted that only a handful of the 65 people who attended a 2018 “Express Sessions” discussion of parking problems raised their hands when asked if the village had a shortage of parking spaces.

The mayor herself made the same point in her introductory remarks. No one raised their hand when she asked if anyone attending the session, which started at 5 p.m. on a Wednesday, had had trouble finding a parking space.

“Our parking problem lasts about 100 days out of 365,” she commented. “This is a problem” but the search for solutions should “balance how many days it isn’t a problem.” Sag Harbor, she said, has about 750 off-street municipal parking spaces, “almost as much as the village of Southampton’s parking.”

The mayor described the session as part of her ongoing long-term planning effort, which so far has included a wide-ranging discussion of planning issues at the Village Board’s August work session. “As we talk, keep in mind” that the overall concern will be “what we want Sag Harbor to look like, what do we want Sag Harbor to be,” the mayor said.

There will be a “big meeting to talk about where we are” in the planning process, the mayor announced, at the next work session of the Village Board, which is slated for Saturday morning, October 26, at 10 a.m.

Kicking off the discussion, she reported that a water quality grant from the East Hampton Town Community Preservation Fund to put in pervious pavement in the Marine Park area will be implemented in January or February, during which “we want to add 10 to 15 spaces further out to the Cor Maria line” on Bay Street, she said. The project could include a traffic-calming effect by narrowing the travels lanes of Bay Street, she said.

Among longer-term solutions aired at the session, April Gornik noted that the 160-space back parking lot behind Main Street “needs more permeability” and drainage improvements to control its flooding problems. She said that dry wells on Main Street, to catch runoff before it flows down to the back lot, were proposed in a study developed under the leadership of then-Trustee Robbie Stein.

Susan Mead of the Sag Harbor Partnership called for changes in the village code to allow “remote parking for schools and churches during the peak summer periods.” She said the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center and the Sag Harbor Partnership were interested in the dry well project Ms. Gornik mentioned. She reported during the session that the Partnership had hired urban planner Jonas Hagen, a member of the village Planning Board, to “put together a traffic study.”

Chip Dineen commented that it seems Main Street “is getting used a lot more for parking” well south of the business district, which he said should be encouraged; Mr. Cohen noted his ongoing effort to develop a Sag Harbor Cultural District that would draw people from the downtown area to Main Street at the library, Whaling and Historical Museum and the Custom House.

“The further out you push people,” observed Jesse Matsuoka, “the less they’ll shop.” He said he’d been asked as a member of the Chamber of Commerce to look into a valet parking system. “I had a really hard time even thinking about how that would work,” he said.

Trustee Aidan Corish called for digitizing all the various parking improvements that have been proposed going back for years and never implemented. He also supported the idea of a parking app.

Using a “free ride” circuit “to transport people from the school lots, their homes and other stops” was one of many ideas presented in a handout by the Sag Harbor Transportation Group, which Gigi Morris noted had taken the group five years to develop. She noted a free ride program could ease the problem of downtown apartment tenants and business employees from “taking up prime spaces.”