One by one, a half-dozen young mothers stood up to pledge that they would walk their children to music class rather than drive. They didn't say what they would do in case of inclement weather or cold wintry days, but their intention was to do anything they could to support the application of their friend, Kris Rice, to open a music school on Sea Cliff Avenue.
This heartwarming show of loyalty took place at the Aug. 11 meeting of the Sea Cliff Planning Board, whose well-intentioned purpose is "to protect and enhance the physical and visual environment of our community."
Over the years parking has become a major focus by which the planning board is asked to recommend or not recommend approval for a new business in town. Of course, no existing business along our main street has off-the-street parking, except the bank. But the village has an answer to that: A practice calling for a fee for all parking spaces which it calculates are necessary for a business to operate without infringing on the environment of the area. There is a formula (i.e., square footage, number of employees, number of customers expected at a peak time) they use for every kind of business imaginable. But, in each case, the totals for such a fee can run into thousands of dollars. That would almost certainly put an end to the dream of a music school in our midst.
Why we have this practice is all a mystery. It was conceived quite a number of years ago by the village attorney and the mayor at the time. But daytime parking along Sea Cliff Avenue is not a problem and never has been. It is a figment of our village government's imagination.
One classic example of the innate inequity of this practice occurred some 20 years ago. An enterprising resident and family man, John Dubin, opened a fish store selling fresh fish, shrimp, scallops and clams, et al. It was an instant hit among Sea Cliffers who frequented the conveniently located and amply supplied store. He then applied to the village for a special permit to put in a few tables for customers to partake of a moderate selection of prepared meals on the premises. Despite the fact that his establishment on Roslyn Avenue directly across from the firehouse stood less than 75-feet from the adjacent municipal parking lot, the village demanded that he pay for off-the-street parking spaces. He could not, or would not, comply because of the cost involved and eventually closed up shop in disgust. Sea Cliff lost a popular, viable business and no amount of public clamor in defense of Dubin's venture could bring it back.
But let's fast-forward back to Kris Rice's reasonable application to start classes for budding Sea Cliff musicians. Such an undertaking would help breathe new life into Sea Cliff's disturbingly quiet Business "A" district. The addition of such a business involving children and performing arts follows the recent recommendations of the village's Downtown Revitalization Committee appointed by the mayor.
That same night the planning board also heard the applications of the brand-new Art and Soul Gallery and art supplies store, which also proposes children's classes and the village's established Pizzeria/Italian restaurant, aptly named I1 Villaggio, which wants to expand its interior with plenty of empty space to do it. These two businesses can also help give our downtown its much-needed lift.
It is time, indeed, for the current village board to pay attention to our community's need for a vibrant business district as those young mothers so eloquently and sincerely pointed out. It's time to stop discouraging viable businesses from opening in Sea Cliff and fill those empty storefronts instead.
Let's start by abolishing that offensive parking practice. After all, as one pundit put it at the planning board meeting, "village hall, itself, does not have off-the-street parking."