Anyone who regularly takes Route 27 through Water Mill this time of year knows about Hank’s Pumpkintown.
After the season officially launches this Saturday, September 24 the sprawling 30-acre parcel packed with an apple orchard, play structures, a corn maze, a farm stand and — of course — a pumpkin patch will attract hundreds of families on any given day through the end of October.
But along with hoards of Halloween pumpkin pickers inevitably comes two rows of parked cars neatly packed along the shoulder on both sides of Route 27. With the sheer number of cars and families crossing the highway as they go to and from Pumpkintown, often this spells traffic.
However, this year, legislation passed by the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) will restrict parking on the north side of the highway — across from Pumpkintown — from County Road 39 to Head of Pond Road. The legislation was approved in June at the request of the Southampton Town Board.
What’s more, last week Southampton Town issued additional parking restrictions on Fairbanks Court, a cul-de-sac across from Pumpkintown that runs alongside Duck Walk Vineyards, another spot where the field’s fall visitors often leave their vehicles. Both restrictions last from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., September 1 through November 15.
“There are issues of congestion in that area,” explained Southampton Town Councilwoman Nancy Graboski, who emphasized that the legislation was not spurred by complaints from residents; rather, “it was observation-driven.”
According to Graboski, the congestion caused by roadside parking in the area often made it difficult for emergency vehicles to pass. It also made visits to Pumpkintown especially precarious for those who chose to park on the north side of the street, in front of Duck Walk Vineyards, and cross the highway on foot to get to the field.
According to Pumpkintown owner Hank Kraszewski, the DEC’s parking restrictions will significantly limit the amount of congestion along Route 27, which will benefit everyone in the long run.
“It made me crazy when ambulances would go through,” Kraszewski said of the bottleneck in front of Pumpkintown.
In addition to supporting measures imposed by the town and the state, Kraszewski said he has opened a three-acre parcel in the midst of Pumpkintown to accommodate parking. (He estimates the lot could hold up to 375 cars.)
Kraszewski noted that an aerial shot of Pumpkintown from 2010 showed 100 cars parked along Route 27, which “was a real safety concern.”
The Pumpkintown owner said neighbors were very supportive of the measures to restrict parking, including Pumpkintown’s neighbor to the north, Duck Walk Vineyards — for the most part.
“I look at it this way: Is [the traffic] a slight inconvenience? For people driving by, yes. Do I have a problem with an influx of customers? Not at all,” stated tasting room manager Pam Przepiora.
This time of year, she said Duck Walk actually benefits from an increase in foot traffic due to the vineyard’s close proximity to Pumpkintown. And while she supports the town’s efforts to regulate traffic, in theory, she said no-parking signs will do little to prevent the pedestrian problem.
“People are still going to walk across the street to Duck Walk Vineyards with their children and their strollers,” she said. “I don’t understand why Southampton Town won’t just give us a traffic cop.”
Kraszewski and Graboski worked closely with both government and law enforcement officials to solve the parking predicament — most notably Town Fire Marshall Cheryl Kraft and Town Transportation Director Tom Neely.
The group discussed different options, including putting a crosswalk in the area and hiring a crossing guard. But ultimately it was decided that enforcement needed to come from the state as Route 27 is under the state’s jurisdiction.
“The town police were of the opinion that unless you put up ‘no parking’ signs, there’s nothing you could do [to calm traffic],” Kraszewski recalled. According to Kraszewski, the problem with hiring a TCO was in trying to get all pedestrians to cross the road in the same spot.
However, he added that no option has been removed from the table entirely. Should traffic problems persist through this pumpkin-picking season, he said he and town board officials will revisit the issue.