That’s Enough: The Battle to Save Our Access to the Beaches

There are more than 200 road ends in the Hamptons today where you can park your car, walk out onto the beach and go for a swim in the ocean or the bay. Perhaps 120 of them are in Southampton Town and 80 of them are in East Hampton Town.

Over the years, the community has prided itself on maintaining this openness. And the residents have come to expect it. It’s one of the great pleasures of this place. And it’s the law. The King of England decreed it in 1686. The law was adopted by New York State after the creation of the United States. And it is enforced by the Trustees, a separate body of government.

Years ago, it was almost amusing for me to read about wealthy summer residents running out in front of their beachfront homes demanding that beachgoers leave “their” beach, only to find themselves threatened with arrest. These were not their beaches. These beaches belong to the public. [expand]

The key to going to the beach, of course, is access to it. It was just eight years ago that a summer resident in Bridgehampton put steel posts into the ground at the entrance of a sand road owned by the Town to block vehicles from going down it. Local fishermen had been driving down the road to the beach there. It was next door to his house. It annoyed him.

This act drew immediate outage from the sitting Town Supervisor. He ordered the Town Highway Department to go down there to tear these steel posts out and they did.

But that was eight years ago. Now, one by one, with the Town’s approval, road ends are being regulated, “no parking” signs are going up and these accesses are being blocked. It’s to appease the new “taxpayers,” these same summer residents, who are now about in the majority, who want everything closed off now that they have theirs, and then wonder why what they came out here to enjoy is vanishing. By their actions, they are causing this, changing the Hamptons into a gated community where nobody drives on the beach, nobody parks near the beach and nobody can even see the beach or the ocean except for the oceanfront homeowners sitting in seclusion behind their hedgerows. It is, frankly, a terrible turn of events.

Today, that sand road (crossing Town-owned property) in Bridgehampton has the steel posts back up due to a clerical error in the Town Attorney’s office that the wealthy summer resident seized upon. There are “no parking” signs everywhere, and in no time the signs will read “Keep Out.”

How can this be happening? Unfortunately, that right to keep the beaches open for the general public is being enforced by Town Trustees with limited budgets. One by one, as high-priced lawyers are hired by the wealthy to challenge them, the Trustees’ hold on things is slipping away. In my opinion, if the Towns can’t back them up properly—as they failed to do in Mecox—then the State should step in with stronger laws. Governor Andrew Cuomo knows this area well. I was a guest of his at his home in Southampton on South Main Street when he was Attorney General. He loves this place. And the beaches are now, quite suddenly, being taken away. (The most recent challenge would close off an entire mile of ocean beaches in Napeague.) It has to stop.

You need to look no farther than a dead-end road called Noyac Bay Avenue in Southampton to see this process at work. Noyac Bay Avenue is a paved road that widens where it comes to an end so as to accommodate a dozen or so cars that park on both sides of the street to go to the little bay beach to walk, swim or surfcast. [expand]

Now, suddenly, there are “no parking” signs at this road end. Why? The members of a private club next door that has no claim whatsoever on this public road have caused this to happen. They went to Town Hall to put an end to the public going there. And the Town accommodated them.

How could this have happened? Easy. It’s in the air. We are sliding into becoming a gated community. Go with the flow. Here are the details of this story.

This club is called the Northampton Colony Yacht Club, headed up by Commodore Laurence Tullio. It has its own clubhouse and its own beach. It has a fence around it and a gate. But it does not have any yachts.

The yachts which are owned by the members of this club, along with yachts owned by other people, are located on the other side of this dead-end road in a public marina with a single dock sticking out into North Sea Harbor. It has accommodations for about 30 boats.

There is no fence separating this marina from the dead-end road. If you park your car at the dead-end you can see the marina. That’s the case at many of the 300 dead-end roads on the South Fork.

But the Northampton Colony Yacht Club said they were troubled by this situation. There have been widespread thefts of equipment from these boats, they told the Board. Fishing gear has vanished. Nets have been taken. People have been on these boats. On one vessel, a cup-holder was damaged.

The Town Board asked if these crimes had been reported and they were told that they had. But they felt that this situation needed to be handled in a different way. Make parking illegal down at the end of Noyac Bay Avenue.

And so that is what the Town Board did. In practice, since they fund the Trustees, they can simply override the Trustees—a separate government body—by refusing to fund them.

What the Commodore and his friends did not count on was the persistence of a retired physician, a local resident now 87, who every day for years has taken his car down to park at the end of that road to watch the boats come through the channel there and to walk the beach. His name is Dr. Stanley Shore.

He drove down there one day and found the new sign. No Parking. He left. It didn’t sit well with him. He went to the Town Board to ask about this sign and was told about the thefts. He said he didn’t believe it. It was a peaceful place.

Curious, he made a FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) request to the police department, asking for records of incidents at that location. He found there had been only one reported incident of theft down there in recent years. That was in 2008. He went back to the Town Board to give this information to them, and to ask them to reverse their decision. They are now thinking about it. But as a matter of fact they have been thinking about it for some time. And the most recent information is that they intend to have the whole place surveyed, so they can see exactly what part of this place is owned by the Yacht Club, what part is owned by the Marina and what part is owned by the Town, so they can see what is what. This, however, gives the Yacht Club the rest of the summer to have their privacy.

Commodore Tullio, when asked, said that indeed some of the many thefts from the boats have not been reported to the police.

Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi said this to a newspaper reporter: “The reality is the more people that can park there, the more welcoming it is.”

This statement is an outrage. One third of the Town of Southampton Parks & Recreation Seal shows people fishing, another third of the seal shows people using the beaches, the final third shows a family walking by a windmill. Nowhere on the seal does it say that if you live in the town you have to be special to do that.

Meanwhile, in East Hampton, the town officials might not realize they are combating this trend, but in passing a new law a few weeks ago they did just that. The new law allows the Town to have overgrown brush and foliage removed to open up picturesque views of farm fields, bays and harbors for the general public. Not unexpectedly, as they move to implement this new law, they are facing furious objection. Who could possibly object to this? Guess who?

Other efforts to block the closing of beaches by both East Hampton and Southampton Towns, have included efforts to declare the backs of beaches parallel to the ocean official sand roads so emergency vehicles could not be barred from rescuing those in trouble. In Bridgehampton, an experiment to put poles in the ground with numbers on them at thousand-foot intervals to direct officials to rescue operation locations has been declared a success and they are now considering doing this town-wide.

Somewhere here is a solution to the alarming trend of our losing the rights to our beaches. Long ago, the right to enforce this rule was created by the Governor of the State of New York. The law is named after him—the Dongan Patent.

If the local Trustees cannot hold off this trend, then I appeal to Governor Cuomo to look into this matter and create a new law that would strengthen the rights to this enforcement. [/expand]

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