Pictured above: The New Suffolk Beach on a summer afternoon.
A study of parking and traffic flow options for the tiny and increasingly busy bayside hamlet of New Suffolk has just been released, and while the busy summer season is still months away, in the world of public planning, that’s a heartbeat.
Southold Town commissioned AKRF Environmental, Planning and Engineering consultants to conduct the survey last summer, in an attempt to get an objective viewpoint from an outside consultant who wouldn’t be swayed emotionally by an issue that has long rankled residents of this once-sleepy hamlet, which is just south of Cutchogue and has around 350 residents, a commercial district that consists of two popular restaurants, a post office and a boutique, and Southold Town’s most popular beach and boat ramp.
AKRF’s suggestions range from not allowing diagonal parking across the street from Legends restaurant on First Street to setting 3-hour parking limit in busy areas and hiring a traffic control officer to enforce those restrictions, requiring fees for people to walk onto the New Suffolk Beach, restricting residential blocks within the street grid to Southold Town residents between June and August and opening up a field adjacent to the existing beach parking lot “to accommodate overflow parking for visitors with Town of Southold parking permits during the summer beach season.”
The full study is available online here.
Southold Town Councilwoman Jill Doherty, who gave the study to civic leaders in New Suffolk in advance of the Town Board accepting the document at their Feb. 25 meeting, had initially hoped to hold a public meeting to allow AKRF to discuss the study with New Suffolk residents in mid-March.
But Ms. Doherty’s circulation of the draft, which has since been accepted as complete but not endorsed by the town, led to some blowback from people in New Suffolk, who contacted the town upset about the plan, and with members of the town’s Transportation Commission.
“There was quite heated discussion” at the Transportation Commission’s most recent meeting, said the town board’s liaison to the Commission, Councilwoman Sarah Nappa. “The Transportation Committee feels a little left in the lurch with this, and they wished they were included earlier in the conversation… They wanted to know why it went to the public before it went to them.”
“I looked at it. It’s a lot of goobuldy-gock for me,” said Councilman Jim Dinizio, who said he hopes to hear AKRF describe the study to the community. “My understanding is it’s been misinterpreted already.”
“I thought I was helping them by including them,” said Ms. Doherty, who lives in New Suffolk, of her decision to send the draft to people in New Suffolk. “I’m trying to get the information out there.”
Ms. Doherty added that the Transportation Commission was aware the study was underway when it was conducted last year.
“I didn’t put it on their agenda to get a response from them (right away), but to let them know we had the report. Let’s start the discussion,” she said.
Ms. Doherty had been hoping to set up a March 11 public forum for AKRF to present the study, followed by another meeting to answer questions, but the Transportation Commission doesn’t meet until March 16, and other board members said they’d like to wait until after the Transportation Commission weighs in to hold the public meeting.
“The order should be that it is presented to the Transportation Commission first,” said Councilman Dinizio. “This is a hot issue, even if for just a few people.”
“The whole purpose of this was to take personal issues away, without all biases, and hand it to an impartial consultant,” said Town Supervisor Scott Russell.
The issues faced by New Suffolk are familiar to any urban planner, but on a concentrated scale that often pits neighbor against neighbor within a tight, two-block radius of its waterfront. (The Beacon’s headquarters is in this neighborhood.)
AKRF divided its recommendations into three issues: Parking on First Street, which the consultants said was the most important issue to address first, parking throughout the hamlet center, and safety.
Its first suggestion, to convert the informal use of diagonal parking on First Street to parallel parking, possibly using curbing and pavement improvements, wades into a longstanding dispute between the New Suffolk Waterfront Fund, which installed a barrier of wooden posts that pushed cars parked diagonally out into the travel lanes, and Legends Restaurant, whose owners were among the opponents of the non-profit Waterfront Fund’s plan to rebuild the old Galley Ho restaurant, now Case’s Place, which is a tenant of the Waterfront Fund.
The parking lot for Case’s Place, adjacent to the diagonal parking, is also often roped off from the public when the restaurant is not open, with signs that say “Parking for Case’s Place Only,” despite the fact that it is adjacent to an easement on the property used as a community garden funded by a grant from the New York Environmental Protection Fund.
The recommendations also call for having a traffic control officer “enforce on-street parking regulations on 1st Street and in the New Suffolk beach parking lot” on a seasonal basis, allowing three-hour parking adjacent to the New Suffolk Post Office when the post office isn’t open (these spaces are currently 15-minute parking), establishing No Parking regulations to the east of the New Suffolk Beach parking lot to allow emergency vehicle access (the boat ramp is a common launching point for water rescues), and establishing “No Boat Trailer Parking” north of King Street on First Street.
Ms. Doherty said she’d have to see when AKRF is available after the Transportation Commission’s March 16 meeting in order to find a new date for the public meeting.
“I’m going to be away that day. I don’t know where. Whatever the date of the meeting is, I’m going to be away,” joked Mr. Russell, the town supervisor. “The whole issue down there so difficult. We’ll be looking at the least objectionable solutions. Everybody has to understand they’re going to have to walk away a little bit unhappy.”
“We have to do something,” said Ms. Doherty. “It’s mayhem down there.”