Café permit spotlights
 Center parking issues

No one wants to lose the Center luncheonette whether they knew it as Getty’s, Nevel’s, Carol’s, Tom’s or the Osprey Café. But it appears that no one is willing and able to run the place. Times and the economy have changed since 2007 when the coffee shop was previously imperiled. The café was shuttered all last summer; living without it is a reality we already know.

So owner Marc Wein is again asking the Town Board to issue a special permit allowing him to convert the nonconforming café into a conforming office … well, an almost conforming office.

The town code requires that the property accommodate 20 parking spaces. That’s a lot for a small business and that calculation involves parking for the storage barn in the back of the property, which seems silly. Mr. Wein is offering four dedicated parking spaces. While 20 seems like too much, four is too little for any business open to the public, and is simply not feasible for one with an upstairs apartment.

Councilwoman Chris Lewis was right to ask whether Mr. Wein should provide more parking, particularly since it is readily accessible. The Shelter Island Presbyterian Church scarcely uses the adjacent lot but last month closed it to non-church use out of financial necessity. While Mr. Wein has bemoaned the economic realities of running a café, the recession has hit the church even harder. Ms. Lewis acknowledged her ties to the church in discussing the issue on Tuesday; the Reporter editor is also a member. The wearing of many hats is often a consideration in Island politics, but it should not obscure this issue from the public eye. 

For decades, businesses, the school and the town have benefitted from the church lot, which was available to everyone with but one request, a sign asking drivers to keep the lot open for Sunday parishioners.

For the school, it has served as a turnstile for elementary student drop-offs, and teachers and staff parked there regularly. The School Street lot is often filled and students routinely park at the Legion Hall, an indication that parking in the Center is maxed out, even in the off-season.

Mr. Wein has argued that the loss of the church lot makes it impossible to operate the café. He has said he is open to working out an arrangement to use part of the church lot, but he has made no formal offer. 

Mr. Wein will get his special permit, but approving it as is, providing only 20 percent of the code-required parking in a business area with obvious parking issues, is not in the town’s best interest. The community would benefit from a meeting of the minds on this. And as a matter of principle, the board should not waive code requirements without first asking the applicant to exhaust all alternatives.