The threat of diminishing beach access across the East End has, unfortunately, become an increasingly popular topic of conversation. From a group of private homeowners in Napeague who have argued to privatize the beach directly in front of their oceanfront homes, to a Noyac community that sought to limit who could park near their waterfront, the East End has recently seen far too many scenarios in which a select few have fought for special privileges that negatively affect the vast majority of their fellow town residents.
Such elitist perceptions have been brewing in Water Mill for the past two years, as residents of Bay Lane have fought the town of Southampton to prevent a small-scale non-profit sailing school from being established on the shores of Mecox Bay. The narrow-minded motives fueling this group of town residents was blatantly clear this week when the Southampton Town Board voted unanimously to enter into a license agreement with the Mecox Sailing Association.
Public hearings on the matter — during which residents blasted the plan on everything from public safety issues to environmental concerns — lasted nearly two years. And just when the sailing association seemed close to success, residents slapped it and the town of Southampton with a seemingly frivolous lawsuit over a question of wetlands clearing.
Should the Mecox Sailing Association ultimately be barred from carrying out plans to erect the small sailing school, it would only prevent Southampton Town residents from taking full advantage of lands and facilities their tax dollars currently prop up.
The fight to support the Mecox Sailing Association is a fight to keep the long-standing tradition of sailing alive and well on the East End, yes. But it’s also the effort of Water Mill and Bridgehampton residents to take up the same mantle we saw Noyac residents take up when they fought the town board’s decision to restrict parking on Noyac Bay Avenue. And it follows the same philosophy touted by members of Citizens for Access Rights (CfAR), who formed their grass-roots organization this year to prevent beaches from being privatized in East Hampton.
It’s certainly disconcerting to think that the group of homeowners fighting against Mecox Sailing Association would hope to restrict the town’s access to an organization whose sole purpose is to teach children the art of sailing. But even more troubling is the extent to which these residents are fighting to keep the rest of the town at bay from their little corner of Southampton.
Not only have they sued the town, but they’ve sued the private citizens associated with the Mecox Sailing Association. As this fledgling organization sets out to raise money to start its sailing school, it now also has to raise money to fight a ridiculous lawsuit that is about nothing more than exclusion. To win an argument by draining the bank account of your opponent is not only selfish, it’s utterly juvenile. It’s also a prime example of the unwillingness of the one percent to recognize the rights of the ninety-nine percent. This has become a case of those with money and privilege exerting what they feel translates into power and authority over an entity with less monetary value. No wonder Occupy Wall Street now has a Hamptons chapter.
Those who are involved in the lawsuit against the Mecox Sailing Association are essentially spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to tie up their neighborhood with red tape so that they can enjoy what they view as their own private property. “Sure, it’s public, but if the public can’t access it, then I guess it’s kind of ours.”
The people who live adjacent to the town’s picturesque public lands — whether they be beaches, ponds or hiking trails — have the benefit of proximity to these spots day in and day out. But that doesn’t mean they own them. That privilege belongs to the town and, by extension, it belongs to us all.