At a public meeting on Tuesday, the Board of Trustees and the Planning Board for Port Jefferson met to view a presentation by architects contracted by the village to draft a comprehensive revitalization plan for Upper Port Jefferson.
Michael Schwarting and Frances Campani, architects and village residents presented a proposal that studied the area and proposed architectural and zoning changes.
The plan will be taken into consideration by the Planning Board and Board of Trustees. A study is still pending to analyze the traffic patterns and traffic flow through uptown Port Jefferson. The results of the traffic study will influence any final plan presented to the public.
Focusing on the area from Texaco Avenue to Oakland Avenue to the east and west and from North Country Road to the Long Island Railroad tracks to the north and south, the architects showed maps of data on the topography, elevation, population, zoning, current land use, census information and tree planting in the neighborhood. The architects also produced several color drawings of what a revitalized Upper Port Jefferson might look like.
Comparing census data, they found that in the six block area, there was an increase of 34 people in the last decade with a total population of 184 people living uptown. There was a 76 percent increase in the Hispanic and Latino population, which comprises 60 percent of total population uptown. There are currently 50 to 60 apartment units in the area.
They said that the Mather Hospital complex is a critical element of Upper Port Jefferson as well as the Long Island Rail Road parking lot and the undeveloped open area by The Highlands complex along with other village owned or leased properties.
“The key identity,” said Schwarting who narrated the Power Point slide show, “is to create a walkable neighborhood. Main Street is a critical spine.”
The plan focused on different modes of transportation that went through the area including pedestrian and vehicle traffic, the railroad, buses and the ferry. One idea was to develop a weekend shuttle from the LIRR to link visitors to downtown and the ferry. They also wanted to see about getting bus schedules coordinated so times better coincided with the train schedule.
Schwarting called the train station “a gateway to Port Jefferson.”
Other vital areas they focused on were parking, economic development, security and zoning.
Some of goals of the plan were to create aesthetically pleasing and safer pedestrian conditions, create a better flow with traffic calming on Main Street and to address parking needs. The plan included a proposal to eliminate parking on one side of Main Street between North Country Road and the railroad tracks. Parking issues were addressed at length with an idea to put some parking spaces underneath new structures.
Planting many more trees along walkways and installing flower planters to beautify the sidewalks were also discussed as well as making Oakland Avenue into a boulevard with trees lining either side.
Economic improvements include attracting more neighborhood-friendly businesses like food markets and developing more public/private partnerships at the LIRR and other sites. Open public spaces and parks were suggested for the village owned properties and givebacks from developers.
“The Long Island Railroad doesn’t have much long term planning,” said Schwarting.
But he did say that the LIRR was willing to work with villages in revitalizing stations and suggested a plaza in the Port Jefferson station near the newly installed clock. He also said there was the possibility of a retailer occupying the train station building to increase a manned presence and watch over ticket booths as the LIRR expects to further decrease hours of operation at the station.
There was also a plan to put bus shelters on both sides of Main Street and create a cutout area for the bus to pull into when stopping for passengers in front of the train station.
More lighting and a police presence were suggested to increase security in the area, including the possibility of a Suffolk County Police substation. They suggested bringing more of the Dickens-style street lamps uptown to beautify and light the walkable streets.
“The most important way to make change is to make changes to zoning guidelines,” Schwarting said. He suggested changing current C-2 zoning to permit mixed use, encouraging residential housing above commercial, calling the plan “form base zoning,” a way for villages to craft the look and feel of an area rather than focusing on specific instances of code.
He said that Upper Port Jefferson currently has a “very low scale buildup.” C-2 zoning permits a height of 35 feet or three stories on structures, according to Schwarting. Out of 55 buildings, 36 of them are one-story high, 16 buildings are two-story high and there are no three-story buildings.
It was suggested that new buildings should have common setbacks from the street and characteristics should match those of the area. Buildings at intersections should wrap the corners continuing the façade elements.
Some façade ideas presented were based on the 19th century post office or “Regency” building design. They also showed drawings of rows of buildings with pitched roofs that suggested individual buildings with inset entranceways. Setbacks for third floors to break up the vertical alignment of the buildings was suggested.
“Our interest is to create a kind of street wall that has a main street character,” said Schwarting. “To develop a strong pedestrian character on Main Street.”
They also wanted to develop a strategy for tree planting on every street.
“One of our major suggestions is to plant trees,” Schwarting said.
On the issue of school districting in Upper Port Jefferson, the architects said that they were “not studying that” but they did mention that with the way the school district lines are currently set up, children from uptown do not get to know the downtown students.
Mayor Margot Garant said that the Port Jefferson school board and Superintendent Ken Bossert were responding to questions put to them by the planning board on the issue.
Reaction from community members at the board was positive but many thought it would take a lot of time and work to make it a reality.
“It’s interesting,” said one resident who asked not to be named. “But it’s pie in the sky.” He said that it was obvious the architects had put a lot of hard work into the plan.
Marge McCuen, a Port Jefferson resident who owns the on East Main Street, said that she was concerned about security.
“A police substation would be nice,” she said.
Trustees Laurence LaPointe and Adrienne Kessel said that the plan was “wonderful.”
Kessel was impressed with the work that went into the plan, saying that it had “tremendous potential.”
“The only thing we can do is make the conditions possible,” said LaPointe about the possibility to remake Upper Port Jefferson. “The devil is in the details.”