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East Hampton Village Ponders Christmas Market, App-Based Parking

Thu, 11/14/2019 - 11:58
The East Hampton Chamber of Commerce has proposed a Christmas market on Dec. 7, the same Saturday as the annual Santa Parade, which would be pushed to the afternoon.
Durell Godfrey

The East Hampton Village Board, meeting last Thursday, considered proposals to hold an outdoor Christmas market on Newtown Lane in December, and to install high-tech ticket dispensers in village parking lots.

Michael Howell, the East Hampton Chamber of Commerce’s membership manager, presented the plan for the market, which would be held on Dec. 7, the same Saturday as the annual Santa Parade and the lightings of the Hook Mill and the Christmas tree at the Maidstone hotel.

The Santa Parade would take place on Main Street between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m., followed by the windmill and Christmas tree lightings, which, said Mr. Howell, might be joined to create a bigger event that would include a band.

The market would be held from 5 to 8:30 p.m., with about 50 vendors’ booths down the middle of Newtown Lane, which would be closed to traffic from Main Street to the Stop and Shop.

Shopkeepers would be encouraged to stay open that evening, Mr. Howell said, and would be given a discount on a booth if they chose to join the vendors.

He called the event “an attempt to bring people into the community and leverage consumer spending at that time of year when it’s most active.”

Mr. Howell said he had “inherited” the concept for the market from Steven Ringel, the former executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, who helped launch the village’s seasonal fairs.

In May, Mr. Ringel incurred the ire of several shopkeepers after the spring fair on Newtown Lane proved disastrous for their businesses. At the time, Valerie Smith, the owner of the Monogram Shop, said she had almost no sales on the day of the fair. The vendors who took part in it, she said, were not East Hampton caliber, and the live music was a nuisance.

The Christmas market would differ from the spring fair, Mr. Howell said, because it would not have musical performances other than carolers roaming the street. Food trucks would not be included, he said, though the Golden Pear Cafe might offer hot chocolate and church groups might sell baked goods.

Mr. Howell has been meeting with shopkeepers to discuss the event, and said he had received nearly unanimous support. He provided the village with a list of 29 stores, among them Book­Hampton, Stevenson’s Toys, Kirna Zabete, Henry Lehr, and Optyx, whose owners and managers have expressed support for the market.

Ms. Smith, however, remains opposed. In an email to Barbara Borsack, the board’s vice chairwoman, she said, “I think it is absolute fiction that these street fairs . . . create traffic for the village business owners.” The people who would want to shop at her store, she said, are ultimately prevented from doing so because the closing of Newtown Lane makes it hard to find parking. Herrick Park, she said, would be a better venue for such events.

Mr. Howell acknowledged Ms. Smith’s and other shopkeepers’ aversion to the idea. The previous fair had not been “everybody’s cup of tea, but we’re going to learn from that lesson,” he said. “It’s my objective to make it work for them.”  

“As long as the brick-and-mortar guys are on board, I’m okay with it,” said Arthur Graham, a trustee, who suggested the chamber select a better group of vendors than it has in the past. “Often they have stuff on offer that nobody really wants,” Mr. Graham said. The rest of the board agreed, and Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. said the market would likely be approved if Mr. Howell continued to garner support from shopkeepers.

Also last Thursday, a representative from LAZ Parking, a firm that provides parking and transportation services to municipalities, airports, and private businesses, presented the board with options for ticket-dispensing machines to replace the existing ones in the Reutershan and Schenck parking lots. Becky Molinaro Hansen, the village administrator, said the current dispensers are “twenty-ish years old.”

“Quite candidly, their termination date has long expired,” said Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. “It’s been problematic this summer.”

New digital machines, said Nicholas Morris, LAZ’s director of business development, would allow the village to customize parking regulations. Permitted time frames could be adjusted depending on the time of the year, week, or day, he said, and the village could charge for an extra hour of parking beyond the existing two-hour limit. The machines would also make it possible for traffic control officers to spot violators by looking at a smartphone app.

The model Mr. Morris recommended, a version of which is in use in the long-term lot, would cost almost $78,000, plus an annual $6,000 fee for the software usage. It can either dispense tickets, as now, for display on cars, or it can be configured to be ticket-less, with parking registered via an app. Drivers would enter their license plate numbers to register.

Mr. Morris suggested placing two such devices in the Reutershan lot, away from the entrances, where traffic backups often occur, and one in a central location in the Schenck lot.

Ms. Borsack disagreed with the number of machines needed. For the system to be “as easy and user-friendly as possible,” she said, there should be at least three in the Schenck lot, and Reutershan would need even more. Otherwise, she said, the village would be asking people to walk long distances to access the machine, return to their cars, and then walk to their destinations. “I don’t think people are going to be very happy about that,” she said.

Rather than remove the ticket-dispensing machines from the lot entrances, Ms. Borsack said the village could create longer queuing lanes, which would allow drivers to access the machines from their cars without causing a backup.

Rose Brown agreed that the current setup is much more convenient, and wondered if the parking app could show drivers whether spaces are free in the lots. Mr. Morris said it could.

Ms. Borsack, however, cautioned that village residents aren’t yet ready for an entirely app-based parking system. “We’re not there yet,” she said. “People are still using flip phones.” Mayor Rickenbach asked Ms. Borsack and Mr. Graham to meet with LAZ representatives and further refine the proposal.

Ms. Hansen next gave an update on the revitalization plan for the village’s commercial district being developed by Nelson and Pope, a civil engineering firm. The company will provide the village with ways to improve sewage treatment, increase parking, and build affordable housing.

Nelson and Pope will also look into the feasibility of building a sewer system that could service parts of East Hampton Town as well as the village. The firm has suggested starting with a small system that would add more businesses and residences over time, Ms. Hansen said.

The company has already conducted a first analysis of parking and traffic flow, she said, and has requested further discussion with the village about developing more second-floor apartments.

The representatives from Nelson and Pope were “shocked by how much a one-bedroom apartment might go for here,” said Ms. Borsack. “But they had a good understanding of the village, and I think we’re headed in a good direction.”


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