PORT HENRY — An ad hoc panel has been set up to protect Port Henry’s downtown business district from being converted from retail storefronts to residential apartments.
The Port Henry Village Zoning Commission held its inaugural session recently, and Chairman John Viestenz said their next step is begin drafting regulations to prohibit conversion of first-floor business-district retail space to housing.
The commission will meet twice a month, he said, until a local law is ready for submission to the Village Board.
“Our role is to make the official recommendation to the Village Board,” Viestenz said. “Once we finish, we hand it over to the Village Board, and we go out of business.”
Anything that exists now would be grandfathered in, he said, and any new regulations would only affect future conversions.
The village currently has a moratorium in place prohibiting retail-to-residential changeover and recently renewed it for another six months.
Before the moratorium was imposed, at least two owners of downtown buildings indicated they were planning to convert vacant first-floor retail space in their buildings to apartments.
The moratorium was passed by the Village Board to give it time to put zoning rules in place to regulate the practice.
Viestenz said they don’t have a time limit or deadline for their work.
“What we are mainly interested in is protecting Main and Broad (streets),” commission member Sandra Lovell said. “The public is going to have a great deal of say in what restrictions are made.”
Viestenz said they’ll have a public comment period at the end of each meeting to get input on their work.
“We will (also) hold a public hearing before we submit it to the village,” commission member Jeff Kelly said.
LOSS OF BUSINESS
Fewer businesses downtown means fewer people coming to shop, said commission member Evelyn Celotti, who owns Celotti Wine and Spirits on Main Street.