The East Hampton Town Board will hold a public hearing on Thursday night at Town Hall about whether to restrict parking on Napeague’s Dolphin Drive, which serves as access to the ocean beach.
But at the October 16 meeting, the board also will discuss designating a 38-acre property east of Dolphin Drive, called South Flora, as a nature preserve—which might actually increase the demand for parking along Dolphin Drive.
For the past few decades, signs on Dolphin Drive have read “No Parking,” but it was recently brought to light that the town code was changed in 1992 to allow “parking by town permit.” Since that discovery, the town changed the parking signs to reflect the law, which upset and confused area homeowners, who believed parking was completely banned.
Members of the East End Dunes Resident Association are pushing for the town to reinstate the “no parking” rule, saying they are concerned about safety and continued emergency access to the beach.
But the Town Nature Preserve Committee and the East Hampton Town Trustees have both voiced support for allowing some parking on the street to better provide public access to the beach, especially if the South Flora parcel is designated a nature preserve. They also said they believe that safety would be more of an issue if beachgoers were forced to park on Montauk Highway—and if the state adds bicycle lanes there in the future, it would be impossible to allow parking on that stretch of the main road.
On September 11, the Nature Preserve Committee voted to recommend to the Town Board that parking be added on the east side of Dolphin Drive.
“There has always been an assumption, strengthened by [Community Preservation Fund] law, that the public has the right to access preserves,” the committee’s chairman, Zachary Cohen, wrote in a letter to the Town Board last month. “Off-road parking alongside the east of Dolphin Drive would provide access to the trail and jeep path to the ocean that begins toward the southern end of Dolphin Drive. All neighboring streets have no daytime parking allowed, at least from May 15 to October 1.”
Additionally, the committee said that parking on Atlantic Drive Beach to the west is too far away to be considered reasonable parking for the beach at Dolphin Drive.
But last month, Mike Sterlacci of the East End Dunes Resident Association said that because Dolphin Drive is narrow, and families and beachgoers walk and ride bikes down the street, it would be dangerous to put parking there, He said, however, that the group was willing to make a compromise. This week, Mr. Sterlacci said the group will not comment until the Town Board’s hearing on Thursday night at 6:30 p.m.
South Flora’s future will also be discussed. Bought by the town in 2001, the property has 1,700 feet of oceanfront and was to be preserved as open space and for public recreational use, according to Mr. Cohen. In 2005, town officials borrowed $275,000 to pay for construction of restrooms and a parking lot at the site but never followed through with the plan.
The Town Board will vote on whether to make South Flora a nature preserve, and if it decides to do so, parking for the preserve also would be discussed.