A recent meeting called by Supervisor Jon Kaiman to discuss a proposal to build a hotel at 326 Main Street in Port Washington became so contentious that Kaiman and town council member Fred Pollack had to step in numerous times to maintain order and a modicum of civility. Very early in the meeting, which was a continuation of the ongoing shared visioning process that the town has been facilitating, Pollack begged, "Please, let's be polite."
Kaiman opened the meeting by saying that the purpose was to have a public discussion so that the town leaders could get a sense of the community's reaction. He said, "It is better than waiting for a public hearing at town hall, where people are frustrated because they learn about the plans so late." He said that the Shared Vision Steering Committee, which consists of town officials, village mayors, and representatives of community organizations, had met with the applicants to (1) understand what's going on, (2) determine if it fits in with the visioning plan, and (3) make sure that it comes before the public for comment.
The initial portion of the program was devoted to permitting the developers to present their proposal for what they describe as a "boutique" hotel consisting of 52 rooms plus two conference rooms. They propose to name the hotel the Bradley, after a hotel of the same name that existed a few hundred feet from the present site. Katherine Heaviside, president of Epoch 5, a Huntington-based public relations firm, noted that at the turn of the century Port was a tourist destination with more than half a dozen hotels. She explained that the proposed hotel would "accommodate upscale needs, but be small enough to blend into the community." She added, "We will offer tourists and guests all amenities, but no restaurant, therefore it will serve as a source of business for Port restaurants and caterers." Setting a theme that was reiterated by other members of the development team, Heaviside said, "This will revitalize Main Street, rehabilitate the Town Dock, and enhance business for restaurants and retail stores." Heaviside also commented that, before the formal presentation by the developers, she wanted to dispel a couple of rumors, namely, that construction has begun (it hasn't), and that the hotel will contain a casino (it won't).
Kathleen Deegan, partner in the Glen Cove-based law firm Crowe Deegan LLP, represented the development group. Present at the meeting were Joe D'Alonzo of Cow Bay Contracting, Matt Dagguano of CPC Pools, and Sum Suzuki of The Vintage Group. Absent because of other commitments out of town were Robert and Al Salvatico of the Wingate Hotels. She thanked the many individuals and groups from the community who had input into the design, and commented, "The plans have evolved dramatically." Among the changes Deegan mentioned were elimination of a restaurant, redesign of the exterior architecture to match the character of and location of the building, wider sidewalks, adequate parking with valet services, landscaping features, and "earth friendly" design features.
D'Alonzo, identifying himself as a third-generation Port Washingtonian, presented the site plan. The builders are planning a three-story building, as existed before on that site, but with a footprint 1,000 square feet larger than the previous building, which has been demolished. There will be a veranda and balconies, which he said will "complement the existing area." There will be landscaping on all four sides, including a "buffer" at the back end of the property (which adjoins the residential area), a "treescape," and pedestrian rails for safety purposes. Plans also include a parapet, a gazebo and a meditation garden. (In answer to a later question, he said that the garden is for hotel guests only.) Parking will be on the lower level, which will also house the "back office," and on the ground floor. The first floor will contain the lobby plus two conference rooms totaling 2,160 square feet. The second floor will have guest rooms plus a pool. The third floor is planned to have guest rooms and an exercise room. (In response to another question, he said that the pool and exercise room are also planned for guests only.)
In summary, the benefits of the potential benefits to Port Washington claimed by the developers are: the beginning of a revitalization of Main Street, especially Lower Main Street; increased business to existing restaurants and retail stores; generation of increased tax revenues, the provision of a needed amenity for local residents, businesses and yacht clubs; enhanced property values; and the creation of new jobs both during construction and once in operation.
The overwhelming concerns of those who spoke against the hotel in its current format and in its current site had to do with traffic. Anticipating this, the developers introduced a traffic engineer, Irwin Anders, who said that he had conducted a traffic assessment. He looked at the existing roadway network (i.e., Main Street and Shore Road), doing traffic counts and capacity analysis. He also did traffic counts at the Roslyn Claremont and the Great Neck Inn to determine actual usage patterns in similar nearby hotels. He acknowledged the traffic congestion at the corner of Main Street and Shore Road, saying that it ranged anywhere from 800 to 1,050 vehicles an hour. "That's a lot of traffic," he said. He had suggestions about improving the flow of traffic, saying that he was willing to work with the town (which, of course has the ultimate authority) to improve that flow. He also pointed out, as did a number of others, that the hotel is the least intensive use of all possible permitted uses at that site. He noted that hotel guests' arrivals and departures will be staggered. Further, not all will come by car - some will arrive by boat, train, or taxi. Anders went on to explain that the conference rooms are considered very small by hotel standards, and that valet parking will control the traffic flow into and out of the hotel. He estimated that, at Saturday peak, there would be most likely 45 additional cars generated by the hotel.
To reduce car traffic, the hotel owners are planning to install a jitney that will carry passengers to and from the railroad station. This was only alluded to briefly in the meeting, but in prior and subsequent interviews, the developers indicated that this was an important part of their plan. They are hopeful that the BID, which has expressed its support of the hotel although no one from the BID spoke at this meeting, can secure resources to expand the jitney so that it can reduce car traffic throughout the commercial corridor.
The majority of those who commented were from the immediate neighborhood and to one degree or another expressed opposition to the current plans. As mentioned, the most frequent objection was based on the increased traffic that the hotel and meeting rooms might generate. A few individuals said, "We need a hotel in this town, but not at this site." One or two expressed criticism of the architecture; our local historian Joan Kent called it "post-modern Victorian." Another individual objected to the change in zoning from residential to commercial of the strip at the rear of the site, and also objected to the retaining wall. Two or three individuals spoke in favor of the hotel, pointing out the need to house visiting guests, to attract visitors, to enhance business and to provide jobs.
In a subsequent interview, Joe D'Alonzo commented, "We got our points across for those who wanted to listen. I have gotten a lot of good ideas from the people in the community, and we will continue to engage in discussion with the community. We want to build something that is going to succeed."
The next step is a hearing by the town board on the application that has been filed for a change of zoning for the residential strip at the rear of the site. (The rest of the site is already zoned commercial, with a hotel being one of the many currently permitted uses.) After approval by the board, any zoning variances would be heard by the BZA, and then the entire board would conduct a site plan review. The hearing on the change of zoning has not yet been set. Council Member Fred Pollack said that his preference would be for a September date. "I don't think it would be fair to schedule something this important in the summer when so many people are on vacation," he said. Regarding his own position after having heard the public comments at the visioning meeting, Pollack said, "It's a basically good idea. Whether it can be made to work, I have no idea."
On the same section of Main Street, at 334A, Nancy Sinoway, who was previously on Port Boulevard and subsequently on Shore Road, has opened a business doing alterations and tailoring. A Port resident, she said, "This is my home. I love my business. I am busy all the time." Regarding the hotel, she said, "It would be fabulous if it comes, but if it doesn't, I understand ... Sinoway can be reached at 883-7397.
A few doors down, at the corner of Covert and Main, Kean Development of Cold Spring Harbor is constructing a two-story office building. John Kean, president, said, "It will look like a charming seashore residence, of the type you might find in Maine."
The Port Washington News will continue to keep its readers informed of developments along our commercial corridor.