By Claire Walla
At the tail end of Tuesday night’s Southampton Town Board meeting, Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said an old saying came to mind: “If you beat a horse to death, get off.”
The phrase was uttered after nearly an hour of ongoing conversations among council members, Southampton Town Trustees and several members of the community who have all expressed strong opinions on both sides of the aisle during a series of public hearings that have taken place over the last two months regarding parking restrictions on Noyac Bay Avenue in Noyac.
Though parking restrictions were imposed two years ago at the east end of the street — where the road meets a small channel connecting the Peconic Bay to a private marina — several Noyac citizens complained earlier this year that no-parking regulations limited public beach access. After a compromise sponsored by councilman Jim Malone was reached last month to allow for 100 feet of unrestricted parking on the south side of the street, community members and board members — led most adamantly by the supervisor and councilwoman Bridget Fleming — have appealed to lift the no-parking regulations on both sides of Noyac Bay Avenue.
At the last town board meeting July 12, Throne-Holst formally closed the public hearing on the grounds that the board had received a plethora of information on the matter and — in light of the fact that councilwoman Nancy Graboski was absent — she urged the board to come to a vote on the matter at this week’s meeting. However, as councilman Jim Malone was absent this week, the town board tabled the resolution until its next meeting on Tuesday, August 8, when all board members are expected to be in attendance.
For Throne-Holst and Fleming, the issue is clear. “I think the long and the short of it is: parking is limited,” Throne-Holst told the board. “It limits the ease of access [to the waterfront] if you are elderly or disabled or have kids and would like to enjoy the facilitated access onto our [town-owned] waterfront.”
Though much larger portions of the sandy shore above the high-water mark are privately owned by the Northampton Colony Club House to the north and the Northampton Colony Yacht Club to the south, Southampton Town does own about a 50-foot stretch of sand in between.
However, to councilman Chris Nuzzi, the issue has been misconstrued.
“What we’re talking about is parking,” he said. “There are parking limitations, but there are no restrictions to access to the beach.” He continued to explain that there are other areas in Southampton Town where beach parking is limited on roads that end on the water, alluding to comments made earlier in the meeting by Director of Transportation Tom Neely and Trustee Ed Warner.
“There’s limited parking in many of these areas,” he continued. “It’s gone on for years. It doesn’t restrict beach access, it just respects the areas and usually the residential character of the community and the surrounding area.”
Trustee Ed Warner explained to the town board that two roads under trustee jurisdiction, Inlet Road West and Beach Dale Road, were designated seasonal restricted parking areas. Similar to initial complaints posed by Northampton Colony residents with regard to Noyac Bay Avenue, Warner said the parking restrictions were enforced because “people were going there at night and having parties.” The seasonal restrictions now forbid cars from parking in the areas past 9 p.m.
“It was a good thing on those two road ends because I felt those roads were being abused at night,” he continued. “If you limit [parking on Noyac Bay Avenue], it should be a seasonal thing.” Warner added that limiting the time-frame in which cars would be allowed to park should suffice as the public area in question “is a very small beach… I don’t foresee that it’s hundreds of people who are going to go down there.”
Members of Northampton Colony urged the board to keep the limited restriction in place. Elena Loreto said “as far as beach access, we’re in favor of it.” She added that the members of her community in no way wish to limit access to public waters. However, she added, “We’re asking for things to maintain how they are now. There is access; but, [with some parking restrictions] you are enabling us to make sure that our area is secure.” She asked that the board keep the 100-foot compromise in place for a few months to “see how this works out” before taking more action to change the current parking situation.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, those for lifting the parking ban entirely —including Citizens for Access Rights (CfAR) Vice President David Lys — reiterated their point that keeping things as is would set a precedent for the community at-large.
“We feel that any type of limitations on beach road ends make that beach a private beach,” he said. “This is not just something that’s happening in your town, it’s happening in Wading River and East Hampton all around. We think it is something that might [be] a precedent.”
Southampton Town Board members also received an email correspondence the night of the meeting from Gene Deporis, who wrote on behalf of a group of concerned community members. (He said they were told by the deputy supervisor that the meeting would not be open for public input, which is the only reason the group did not attend the meeting to speak on the record.)
“We have had some four months of hearings regarding a parking ban and lack of beach access, both of which should not have taken place in the first place,” Deporis wrote. “[It’s] an issue that should have been solved in a quick meeting, based upon community needs, relevant laws, and good common sense. It’s now late July and an entire season is going by without this having been resolved. What an embarrassment for our town.”
“It boils down to the rights of town residents vs. the wants of a very strident few,” he continued. “This is the same thing it boiled down to in the very beginning.”
Councilwoman Bridget Fleming pointed out that while Transportation Director Tom Neely said there are about 21 roads in the Town of Southampton that end at the ocean or the bay and do currently require parking permits, only three of these roads are on the bayside.
“I have to say, it’s the first time I have had a chance to vote on whether to deny beach access,” Fleming said, adding that she strongly supports lifting the parking ban altogether. She added that she also feels the current situation on Noyac Bay Avenue restricts public access rights, and upends what should be the status quo: “which is that there’s free access to public lands.”