Southold Town was filled to the brim with vacationers all summer long, and in the post-Labor Day, pre-pumpkin-picking lull, the town is doing some street-searching to see what can be done to alleviate the traffic congestion associated with the busy season.
The Southold Town Board devoted much of its Sept. 6 work session to discussions of parking issues in the hamlet centers of Matttituck and New Suffolk, which have both had very busy summers.
Greenport Village has also been hopping all summer, but what happens in Greenport Village is outside of Southold Town’s purview.
Councilman Bill Ruland of Mattituck said he’d like to work with the town’s transportation committee on an overview of the town’s parking facilities in Mattituck, especially the patchwork of badly marked town and privately owned parking lots surrounding crowded Love Lane.
Mr. Ruland said he’d recently sat on a bench on Love Lane watching the passersby as part of his research. One group of people in one car had just found a parking spot and was milling about nearby, waiting for friends who hadn’t found a parking spot.
When their friends finally arrived and said they couldn’t find parking, Mr. Ruland said someone in the first group said “just park anywhere. No one cares.”
“If that’s going to be the attitude going forward, it will only get worse,” Mr. Ruland told the board.
“Everywhere else, people have already dealt with what we’re facing now,” he added. “We want the people to come. It’s good for the economy. But I think there has to be a way to integrate the flow of the hamlet.”
Town Supervisor Scott Russell said that some hamlet centers in town, like Cutchogue, have plenty of parking relative to the number of people who visit, but others don’t.
“If you’re in a location with a lot of eateries, the people are not going to be there for just 15 minutes,” he said, adding that Mattituck also has issues year-round because students at nearby Mattituck High School park on Pike Street, not far from Love Lane, because they can’t park on campus.
Parking restrictions have also become a major issue in the tiny hamlet of New Suffolk, which is now home to two popular restaurants and the town’s most-used boat ramp and town beach.
Councilwoman Jill Doherty told the board that the community has not been able to come to an agreement on parking issues on the stretch of First Street between the restaurants Legends and Case’s Place.
While state law requires parallel parking along the street, visitors have long parked diagonally on the east side of the street.
The town paved and striped the road several weeks ago and the New Suffolk Waterfront Fund, which owns the land on which Case’s Place sits, installed wooden posts along their property line to keep drivers from encroaching on their property earlier this year, and now cars are parked diagonally and extending nearly to the center of the street.
The town hasn’t installed signs to enforce parallel parking and hasn’t been ticketing drivers who park diagonally. Ms. Doherty said many drivers without town beach stickers are also leaving their passengers and beach gear at the town beach and then parking near the restaurants, further gumming up the parking situation.
Ms. Doherty said she’d tried to talk to the Waterfront Fund to work out a lease to allow the diagonal parking to encroach onto their property, as it did before the posts were installed, but “we’re way to far apart.”
“You’ll lose half the parking if you do what the state law says,” she added.
She said the town could consider installing a parking ticket kiosk where visitors pay for parking and display their parking ticket receipt on their dashboard.
Town Public Works Director Jeff Standish said one of the few solutions to the New Suffolk traffic conundrum would be to use a portion of a town-owned grass field just west of the New Suffolk Beach as a parking area.
“It’s a huge issue there. It’s such a tight community, and you’ve got two of the town’s most popular assets right there,” said Mr. Russell. “I can’t envision a beach more popular than that one, and that’s the best ramp we’ve got.”
Mr. Russell suggested the parking situations in Mattituck and New Suffolk be sent to the town’s transportation committee to develop strategies.
“We promoted downtown development. Now we need to make sure we have the parking to support it over the next decade or so,” he said.
Ms. Doherty also suggested the town change its beach sticker code to require beach stickers year-round at town beaches, and that the town also require people who are using town boat ramps to have a beach sticker.
She said that currently, many residents and baymen aren’t able to put their boats in the water because parking near the town’s boat ramps is already being used by people from out of town.
“Right now, anyone can use our ramps for free,” she said. “People can just launch their boats and find a place to park. We need to charge for the use of our ramps.”
Ms. Doherty said that using existing beach stickers as stickers for boat ramp permits would make the switch easier for the town clerk’s office to administer. She added that, in New Suffolk, town beach attendants are already at the beach next door to the boat ramp, and overseeing traffic there could be added to their duties.
A resident beach permit costs $10, a non-resident seasonal permit costs $150 and a non-resident daily permit costs $40. Ms. Doherty suggested those fees remain the same, but suggested that commercial boat haulers who use town ramps be charged $250 for an annual commercial permit.
“It’s a minimal fee,” she said. “We don’t get money from people using these ramps, and this gives us enough revenue that we can do some maintenance on these areas.”
“Last year, a lot of local baymen were complaining that their parking was all taken up with people from out-of-town,” agreed Jeff Standish.
Mr. Standish said that, when the New Suffolk ramp was first installed, the town had an agreement with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to allow anyone to use the ramp. He said that agreement has long since expired.
Councilman Jim Dinizio said he wasn’t sure if the town should charge a commercial permit fee.
“That’s affecting the livelihood of people in the town. I wouldn’t rush into it,” he said.
Meanwhile, on the Mattituck side of the discussion, the town is still looking for a way to pay for a $22,000 traffic study of the Love Lane/Route 25 intersection based on recommendations made earlier this year by the Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association.
The state just released information on a grant that could be used for the project, but the deadline is just one month away, and Southold hasn’t put together enough information to put together a solid grant proposal in time.
Town Engineer Michael Collins said he’d like to keep updated studies on both that intersection and the intersection of Main Street and Route 48/25 just outside the Greenport Village boundary updated and ready for future state grants.
“This kind of shovel-ready mentality began a couple years ago” in other municipalities, said Mr. Russell.
“If I know I have it ready, I can pull the study off the shelf and have the grant application ready in an afternoon,” said Mr. Collins.
Mr. Russell said he’s in discussions with County Legislator Al Krupski and State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo about receiving two 25 percent matching grants from the state and the county to do the Mattituck study.
Mr. Collins said the town had done a study on the Greenport intersection in 2000.
“If we can get that updated to current traffic counts, signaling and road transformation, we’d have two very good projects during next year’s grant cycle,” he said.