By Claire Walla
Hardly quelling concerns on either side of the aisle, the Southampton Town Board decided unanimously (with the exception of Councilwoman Nancy Graboski, who was absent) to close a public hearing last Tuesday, July 12 on the issue of parking on Noyac Bay Avenue in Noyac. Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said a resolution to lift the partial parking ban entirely will be brought to the board at its next meeting in two weeks.
“It’s not about parking, it’s about a fundamental right,” Throne-Holst said.
The town board came to a decision at its last meeting to pass a resolution lifting the parking ban on 100 feet of pavement, allowing three to four cars unrestricted access.
But, along with Councilwoman Bridget Fleming and Councilman Jim Malone, the supervisor expressed concern that any “no parking” signs in the area would contribute to restricted beach access. (While the east-west road is flanked by a private beach club to the north and a private marina to the south, the avenue itself belongs to the town of Southampton, as does a roughly 50-foot wide patch of sand adjacent to it.)
“We cannot restrict the rights anywhere because once we restrict it somewhere, that sets a precedent [for the town],” the supervisor added.
Councilman Chris Nuzzi — the lone voice of dissent on the board last Tuesday — highlighted the compromise that had been reached at the last meeting and downplayed the need for unrestricted access.
“This isn’t necessarily precedent-setting, as far as I can tell. This isn’t actually as limiting as you’d find in some areas,” he said, noting the fact that some town roads that end at the water are permit-only.
Town Transportation Director Tom Neely actually explained that there are roads in the town that dead-end at bodies of water that are in fact permit-only; however, there are currently no roadways dead-ending at the bay that restrict parking.
The issue started about two years ago when residents of Northampton Colony appealed to the board for parking restrictions on Noyac Bay Avenue, citing concerns over several thefts reported in the marina. As no community members then expressed discontent over the issue, the town board complied.
“This isn’t right,” said Noyac resident Lisina Ceresa of the parking restrictions. “I think it’s a disgrace that the octogenarians have been denied access to the only beach they can easily access.”
The town board heard from dozens of community members who argued both sides of the issue with [ferocity]. Members of Northampton Colony hinged their arguments on issues of public safety, reiterating the issue of past theft in the area and highlighting the safety hazards of swimming in the water at the foot of the avenue, which is actually a working channel leading into the marina.
“All we need is a young person’s fishing line to get caught in a boat’s propeller,” said Northampton Colony resident Ken Harvey, alluding to issues of liability. “If you’re going to open it up to anyone to park there, you must guard against that in some way, because I — as a tax payer in this town — don’t want to be faced with lawsuits because you said anyone can use this property, and then they go there and get injured.”
Harbor Master Larry Tullio cited more specific concerns.
“These people here do not want to use this space,” he said, referring to the small portion of sand belonging to the town. “They want to use our country club and they want to use our marina. They are not allowed to set-up beach chairs and umbrellas on private property.”
But Councilwoman Bridget Fleming brought things into perspective, saying that in her view the issue hardly concerns the state or the size of the beach in question.
“The important part is not what people are intending to do, but a basic fundamental principal that we as a town board cannot step in and say that access to this beach is denied,” she said. “You cannot restrict access to public property.”
Town Trustee Jon Semlear, a Noyac resident, echoed Fleming’s sentiments.
“This issue is very important to me both personally and [as a town trustee],” he said, adding that it’s important “that we remain active in protecting the access points in our wild and public lands.”
“I’m very fortunate to have water access,” he continued. “But most people in the town don’t have access, and we have to look out for them. As a trustee for 18 years, everyone’s always trying to nibble away [at beach access]. This is something that we’re vigilant about. It’s a constant battle. If we keep giving up, there’s going to be a point when it’s all private.”