Pictured Above: The Fourth of July at the New Suffolk Beach.
Just before the pandemic hit the East End in early March, Southold Town released its long-awaited parking study of the tiny bayside hamlet of New Suffolk, which has been perennially swamped with visitors on summer weekends and during a Wednesday night sailboat race for the past several years.
There was promise at the time of public meetings to hash out the community’s concerns in time to make changes for this summer season. But then much of the world shut down, including government meetings, and those plans fell by the wayside.
But people were still coming, by the droves, to visit the North Fork’s beaches — one of the few activities that hadn’t been curtailed by the pandemic — and the Southold Town-owned New Suffolk Beach and an adjacent town-owned boat ramp, one of the few in town that can accommodate vessels with deeper drafts, were swamped.
By mid-summer, as a stopgap to make up for the decreased beach capacity mandated by the state due to the pandemic, the town surrounded every access point to the New Suffolk Beach with a snow fence, and mandated that even people who walk to the beach must provide proof of Southold Town residency.
The future had arrived in New Suffolk, a 350-resident hamlet with a two-room schoolhouse, whose business district is comprised of two restaurants, one shop and a post office.
Unlike on the South Fork’s ocean beaches, which are usually on barrier islands some distance from downtown, the town beach sits right in the center of this small town, and is usually easily accessible by parking on a neighboring block and walking to the beach.
Planning for the influx of summer tourists often gets away from local governments here in the few short months they are able to catch their breaths before the crush of visitors resumes again, and Southold finally held its first public discussion of the parking study on Dec. 15.
It took place over Zoom and only three residents spoke, though the traffic study had been all the talk on the streets in New Suffolk for several weeks.
The study, prepared by AKRF Environmental, Planning and Engineering, included two Saturdays of field surveys in the summer of 2019. The first day of surveys was on the Fourth of July, and the second was the following Saturday, July 13.
AKRF’s suggestions ranged from not allowing diagonal parking across the street from Legends restaurant on First Street to setting a 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.
The parallel parking on First Street across from Legends was implemented in the summer of 2020.
“The beach parking lot was deemed to be insufficient in meeting the demand on busy summer days,” said Carson Quing of AKRF at the Dec. 15 meeting. Mr. Quing performed the parking survey on which the report was based.
“We estimated on the July 4 day, that about 30 percent of beach users were actually parked within the lot. The rest were parked elsewhere in the hamlet center. Most were parked along blockfaces on First Street and the cul de sac at the end of Main Street. On the other Saturday, half were parked in the lot.”
Mr. Quing added that existing parking restrictions on residential streets throughout New Suffolk were inconsistent — in some areas there were no parking signs, in some there were no regulations at all, and some had permit parking.
Matt Caromody of AKRF also suggested that the south end of First Street be considered as a drop-off area for the beach.
While the consultants said they sought input from the community in drafting the report, members of the New Suffolk Civic Association, unhappy with the outreach, mailed a survey this fall to all post office box holders in the hamlet, where everyone uses the post office because there is no street mail delivery.
More than a third of the households in the hamlet responded. Eighty-nine percent said they believe parking in front of residential property should be restricted to Southold Town residents from Memorial Day through Sept. 15, with dashboard parking stickers provided for their houseguests. Ninety-two percent said the New Suffolk Beach should be for Southold residents and their guests. Eighty-nine percent said there’s no need to promote tourism “until we can manage the overflow of tourism that we now have,” and 84 percent of the respondents said trucks making deliveries should be restricted to New Suffolk Road, New Suffolk Avenue and First Street.
“I only know one person who provided feedback for the study,” said New Suffolk Civic Association board member George Maul, who is the landlord for the New Suffolk Post Office and lives adjacent to the beach and the boat ramp. (Mr. Maul also serves as The Beacon’s creative director).
Mr. Maul said he appreciated a lot of what was said in the study, but pointed out that it was not conducted during the Wednesday night boat races around Robins Island, which are a major source of traffic in the community.
He added that a large field adjacent to the beach parking lot, which the consultants mentioned as a potential future expansion area for the parking lot, is used for a community-wide picnic on the Fourth of July.
“One of the biggest players here in New Suffolk is the town. The town manages the beach. It’s an attractive hazard,” he said. “Every day at 4:45 p.m., the parking attendant and the lifeguard pack up, lock the bathrooms and leave. The rest of the people who live here are left to manage what’s left. It’s usually hundreds of people, and it’s getting worse every year.”
“If I get in my car and I go to a Mattituck Park District beach, the ladies in the booth will say you can’t come to this beach. You’re not in the park district,’” he said. “At Jones Beach, there’s a sign that says parking lot full, no entry. The town has got to manage the beach better.”
He added that the boat ramp is in the middle of a four-way intersection at the entrance to the beach parking lot, which causes “madness” on busy days, and after the town locks the bathrooms for the night, people often pee on the roadside and on the dunes and can even be found defecating behind the post office.
Yvonne Boutges-Duffy, the vice president in charge of membership at the New Suffolk Civic Association, said she thought the parallel parking on First Street had helped dramatically this past summer, but she added that the New Suffolk Waterfront Fund has built a wide jetty and fishing pier at the end of New Suffolk Avenue since the traffic study was conducted, and she’s seen a “big increase in people parking on little side streets south of New Suffolk Avenue,” who then walked to road end beaches this past summer when they couldn’t access the public beach, which was cordoned off by the snow fence.
“We need to consider implementing and enforcing these things at once,” she said. “If we don’t, it’s going to be a whack-a-mole situation.”
“On Wednesday nights, especially, the parking lot rules are not enforced at all,” she added.
Arlene Castellano, who has been urging the town board for months to hold public input meetings, said she doesn’t know who the stakeholders who were interviewed by the traffic consultants are.
“The congestion stems from the beach,” she said. “On one day, there were 290 people on the beach, but only 84 of them were parked in the parking lot.”
Deputy Town Supervisor Jill Doherty, who ran the meeting, said she doesn’t visit the New Suffolk Beach anymore.
“I myself have not been to the beach in the past two years,” she said. “Even if I go at 9 or 10 in the morning, I don’t want to be sitting right next to people and touching them on the beach.”
“We’re going to need to implement something very soon,” said Town Councilman Bob Ghosio. “For some reason six months goes by in an awful hurry now.”