There seems to be no question in the minds of many homeowners, environmentalists, surfers and residents about whether to designate Napeague’s 38-acre South Flora parcel a nature preserve, as it is said to be an ecological gem.
But whether or not to provide access to the beach there from Dolphin Drive has become a contentious issue.
Dolphin Drive, which serves as access to the ocean beach and sits adjacent to South Flora, has been the hot topic in Amagansett for the past several weeks after parking signs were changed without notice—creating what East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell calls a “confusing mess.”
In 1974, a law was enacted to disallow parking on the street, and for decades the street signs reflected that. In the early 1990s, the town code was changed to allow town resident-only parking on the street, although the “no parking” signs remained.
Town officials noticed the discrepancy in August and changed the signs to reflect the current code allowing resident-only parking. Mr. Cantwell said that the town has been unable to find the resolution that legalized parking at the site.
Residents who spoke at a Town Board hearing on Thursday night, October 16, all seemed to agree with making the 38-acre South Flora parcel a nature preserve because of its ecologically rich environment, which was meant to be preserved when the town bought the parcel in 2001. The issue now is how the town would provide parking there.
Some members of the East End Dunes Resident Association are convinced that adding parking would only create a dangerous situation on the road and for those who need medical attention down at the beach due to the road’s narrow, 20-foot width.
Michael Sterlacci, a member of EEDRA, said his group supports prohibiting parking on either side of the street and that there has never been a demand for parking except by the Town Nature Preserve Committee.
Resident Norman Edwards was against parking on the street as well. “Last week, I visited more than 15 beaches, several of which were adjacent to nature preserves, and I learned there was a consistent plan for all of them that protects the safety of residents and visitors,” he said. “There is no parking where residences begin. There’s a good reason for this plan.”
In a letter to the Town Board, Nature Preserve Committee Chairman Zachary Cohen recommended that the town allow parking on the eastern side of the street to better provide public access to the beach, especially if the South Flora parcel is designated a nature preserve. He said parking on Montauk Highway isn’t an alternative because it’s too dangerous and the state is planning to add bicycle lanes there.
Adding space for cars on the eastern side of Dolphin Drive, or the westernmost area of the South Flora parcel, would provide access to the public beach, he said.
The East Hampton Town Trustees, represented by Debbie Klughers and Tim Bock, said they support the additional space because the beach is within the jurisdiction of the Trustees, who support public access to beaches.
“Imagine if other communities were to come forward and ask to be heard to prohibit parking … this is a negative precedent and a slippery slope that you don’t want to set to allow small groups of people to prohibit large groups of people to access a public resource that is available to everybody,” Ms. Klughers said on Thursday.
Tim Taylor of Citizens for Access Rights said that by not allowing parking on the street, the town would be essentially creating a private beach for the residents there. “The inconvenience would discourage the use of public access,” he said, adding that parking farther away would be unsafe for pedestrians. “Don’t contribute to the loss of access and privatization by limiting or removing the public’s right to easily access the public beach.”
But Dolphin Drive resident Jonathan Wallace said that if the town were to create parking on the east side of the street, it would mean parking on “fragile native vegetation” and putting the town at risk for litigation because there is no proof of when and why the law was changed to parking for residents only.
“It’s the dune and only the dune,” Mr. Wallace said. “And in 1974, there was no parking at any time. So, if God forbid, we were ever litigating about this, the town would not be able to certify this [current] ordinance as actual law. It doesn’t exist and it has no history so you wouldn’t be able to prove it’s really there.”
Concerned Citizens of Montauk Executive Director Jeremy Samuelson said that before any decision is made about parking on Dolphin Drive, the town should decide whether South Flora will be designated a nature preserve and create a management plan, which would include a parking plan for the preserve.
“We’re almost coming at this a little bit sideways,” Mr. Samuelson said. “We’re talking about what specific uses could be on the property but haven’t even decided if it’s going to be a nature preserve yet. Treat the area the way it was treated for the last 40 years, and don’t have the signs encouraging people to park until we get a management plan. It’s going to be winter, and there’s not going to be people lined up to carry their surfboards and six-packs down there.”
The Town Board will discuss the matter again at future work session.