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Aug 15, 2015 12:29 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Hampturbia Part 2: Prescription And Prognosis

East End traffic takes many forms. PRESTON T. PHILLIPS
Aug 16, 2015 2:11 PM

Having defined and outlined the symptoms of Hampturbia in Part 1 (Residence, August 5), and in keeping with my medical analogy, I think the task before us is to establish protocols for treating it as an illness. As with many illnesses, these symptoms may be managed in an effort to stop the progression as opposed to an all-out cure.This requires a team effort of not only our elected officials, but also of business interests, public entities and the general population. The medicine may be hard to swallow in some cases, and as the recent community outrage in Montauk shows, recommendations for improvement are available to those interested in the common good as opposed to promoting self-interests and the bottom line.

I have observed many changes over my three decades as a permanent East End resident, but nothing compared to the past five years. As an architect who seeks unique solutions for my clients, turning my attention to many of the problems facing the Hamptons has been daunting, but options do exist, at least as a starting point.

Recent symposiums at both the Parrish Art Museum (“Fix This Town”) and the East Hampton Library (“Conversations With … ”) have underscored the urgency of the matters before us. As expertly reported by my colleague Anne Surchin in this paper on August 5, the East Hampton library event revisited the landmark 1983 New York Times article by Paul Goldberger entitled “The Strangling of a Resort.” The timing of the original article coincided with my move to Bridgehampton, so I found it particularly cogent lo these 32 years hence.

Clearly this strangulation continues today, and the grip on the East End has been tightened by those symptoms noted herein two weeks ago: congestion, inadequate infrastructure, assault on village character, quality of life deterioration, and environmental degradation. No one prescription is available to address all at once, and some symptoms are more advanced than others (to continue the medical analogy), so treating them individually looks to be our best option.


Regrettably this is the most entrenched problem, as many decades of runaway development and lack of political will to stem the tide of same is a chronic problem regardless of township or political affiliation of the governing boards. Even in the face of withering community opposition (see the current application for a new supermarket along County Road 39 in Tuckahoe), town governments over decades have sided with developers over citizen groups time and time again. Only a sea change of leadership, or a massive recession, can slow this continuing pattern.


A minor traffic accident at 4 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon at the intersection of Scuttlehole Road and Cooks Lane in Water Mill showcased the problems associated with the few east-west arteries available to drivers. The backup was over 3 miles into Bridgehampton for those drivers taking the back roads to avoid sitting in traffic on 27, onto which they were eventually diverted. Heaven knows what horror show played out as a result on 27, but there are similar occurrences weekly throughout the East End.

Given that fewer and fewer drivers acknowledge, or understand, how to negotiate a four-way-stop intersection (or any stop sign for that matter), it’s time to give additional roundabouts a serious look. Numerous major intersections along 27 and scores of smaller ones along the back roads would benefit immeasurably from such a bold undertaking. The woefully undersized roundabout at Scuttlehole Road and Mitchell Lane not withstanding, these installations have proved invaluable traffic flow tools throughout Europe, Canada and closer to home in North Haven at Route 114 and Long Beach Road.

A harder pill to swallow however is to limit truck size, weight and length in our village centers wherever local governance of the streets can trump the county and state. There are just too many huge, heavy and unwieldy vehicles choking the lanes of our villages, the street patterns of which largely date from the 1800s. I include in this limitation the tandem trailers pulled by dump trucks and used by landscape maintenance companies throughout the South Fork. I recently followed such a vehicle through Water Mill and into Southampton Village via Wickapogue and Meeting House Lane, and it was a nail-biter all the way, as the width of the trailer far exceeded the narrow driving lane and the serpentine roadways it was traveling. Parking along narrow streets and roadsides for these vehicles is also dangerous and distracting to the motorist.

The weight of vehicles is another matter, as our roads are simply not constructed to handle the weight being applied to them, as the damage associated with recent winters clearly attests. Have you seen some of the heavy equipment being transported through our hamlets, back roads and towns? I’m not sure what these vehicles are moving, but it’s clearly a monumental task.


Given that our collective infrastructure is an uncoordinated patchwork of numerous public and private entities, it is difficult to provide any concentrated solution. However, that is not to say that there are no available solutions, particularly as related to the visual environment.

I have written previously in this column regarding the out-of-control and redundant highway signs plaguing our roadways, villages and hamlets, Bridgehampton in particular. Remove all but essential signs for public safety and parking restrictions.

The tangled mess of overhead wiring along our few undeveloped bucolic roadways (see Scuttlehole Road) is another area where the benefit of many could be achieved through the actions of a public utility. If only 10 miles of wires could be selectively buried throughout the East End a great public benefit would result. I can provide a short list upon request to PSEG.

In order to maintain some sense of civility and order, more police and traffic control patrols are desperately needed in the summer months in our village centers. A recent Sunday afternoon found Sag Harbor devoid of foot patrols. To suggest that the resulting traffic situation was a free-for-all would be an understatement.

The aforementioned disgraceful condition of our roadways is far from the standard one would expect in such a prestigious resort destination. It’s troubling year after year to see one stretch of roadway resurfaced only to have it dug up a few months later to install some pipe or line below, then poorly patched. There is clearly little coordination of efforts here between public utilities and the governing highway departments, which is inexcusable and costly to the taxpayer.

Village Character

Following the lead of the South Fork’s newest village, Sagaponack, all primary East End villages now have limitations on residential development, construction moratoriums, or a combination of the two in place to halt the steady erosion of well-established neighborhood character.

A recent drive through the area north of Hill Street in Southampton Village was a startling juxtaposition between new residential construction and well-established local neighborhoods.

Mature trees also need to be the focus of preservation, as these lend shared value to an otherwise bleak streetscape.

Reduced speed limits and restrictions on parking in residential zones near commercial areas are also needed. Look no farther than Rysam Street in Sag Harbor as a prime example of a residential street used as a parking lot.

Greater influence by, and attention paid to, the various village and hamlet citizen advisory committees is needed as another avenue for citizens to rally around a communal cause, such as the recent protests over the CVS application in Bridgehampton’s historic epicenter.

Quality of Life

In my estimation, quality of life, or the lack of it, is the fulcrum on which the prognosis for Hampturbia turns, and there is no greater threat to it and to property values far and wide than the noise generated by the East Hampton Airport.

Over the recent Fourth of July weekend there were almost as many noise complaints as there were takeoffs and landings. This is an astonishing statistic by any standard. And suggestions that aircraft are quieter this year than in years past is nonsense. If anything, the noise generated by helicraft has reached the point that all conversation must stop until the offending equipment has thundered past. This issue has taken on an invasion of one’s right to privacy mandate.

I visited the airport last Sunday with helicopters hovering waiting for space to be vacated by departing seaplanes in close proximity to the terminal. It looked like the exodus from Saigon, for those who recall that debacle. Helicopters, seaplanes, prop planes and jets were parked so tightly as to meld into a sea of wings and tails.

I continue to be an advocate for local pilots and flying enthusiasts for whom the airport was originally chartered as a gift to East Hampton. However, the exponential increase in commercial aviation interests, whose only tie to East Hampton is the airport tarmac, requires serious restrictions as well as established over-water primary flight paths into East Hampton airspace and mandatory minimum altitudes. Southampton Town and the North Fork have suffered long enough.

For a decade or more, the so-called “power line route,” above the clearly visible scar on the terrain which is the high transmission power lines running from Southampton to Montauk, was the primary arrival route. Now, once aircraft cross over Roses Grove in Water Mill and get a visual lock on the airport 8 miles away, the pilots veer off this well defined and relatively unpopulated route to make a beeline to the airport over densely populated areas.

Rarely do they ever maintain a 2,500-foot minimum elevation above the ground, which is the FAA-mandated height for any and all aircraft passing above protected environmental sites such as the Long Pond Greenbelt in Bridgehampton and the Morton National Wildlife Refuge in Noyac, both of which may have hundreds of flights crossing above them daily in high season.

The Town of East Hampton is embroiled in a battle royale with these carpet-bagging commercial aviation interests, and may have faltered early in the process when its officials opted for a one landing and takeoff per week rule for the noisiest equipment, over a weekend ban for the well-established noisy category of aircraft.

In a recent challenge to the new laws, restrictions as to time of operations were upheld, which indicates to this writer that restricting airport access as to time is well within the town’s rights, as opposed to restricting the number of takeoffs, which was stayed by the presiding judge.

It remains an open question on appeal, but if commercial aviation interests are allowed to co-opt the East Hampton Airport, then the Hamptons as we have known them are finished.

Other valid noise concerns such as weekend bans on gas-fired leaf blowers and residential construction on Sundays, or before 7 a.m. any day, are all important in a microcosmic sense and can hopefully be addressed successfully in the various town and village board rooms.

Environmental Degradation

As noted in Part 1 of this series two weeks ago, nitrogen-rich lawn fertilizers and weed and insect control are threats to the natural environment on a multitude of layers. The recent discovery of the toxic blue-green algae in Montauk’s Fort Pond and Wainscott Pond are the latest additions to a long list of signature East End ponds such as Lake Agawam in Southampton Village and Water Mill’s Mill Pond to be affected. Nutrient runoff from lawns and septic systems in proximity to the ponds is viewed as the critical ingredient when mixed with high temperatures.

A moratorium on the use of nitrogen-based lawn fertilizers within a quarter-mile of these and other bodies of water would be a good first step in preventing a repeat of this condition that is dangerous and toxic to man and nature.

Other environmental threats abound, particularly the loss of habitat due to overdevelopment and in many cases overclearing where the building site is scraped clean. The loss is immeasurable, and touches every class of mammal, amphibian, bird, fish or insect native to these shores. From the smallest fish to the largest raptor, the connection through the food chain is frayed, and in the case of birds many lose their nesting sites and food sources and just move on entirely.

Enforceable fines in the tens of thousands of dollars are needed to deter a homeowner with deep pockets who really wants that emerald green carpet of grass rolling down to Georgica Pond, or the developer who wants a blank slate onto which to construct another swooping gambrel roof extravaganza.

There have been successes, however, notably the dark skies initiative, which was conceived to protect our nighttime sky from unnecessary glare and light pollution, and the popular ban on single-use plastic bags in Southampton Town. Both issues required the expenditure of political capital for the public good, and have been successfully implemented.

So where does this leave us and what prognosis can we draw from these limited solutions?

In one of his last columns for this paper, author Steven Gaines wrote an exceptional piece entitled “A Line in the Sand,” wherein he wrote of many of these same topics coupled with his inimitable style of describing the behavior of entitlement exhibited by the new moneyed class of visitors and homeowners.

He quoted from an oft-published and highly respected academic authority from Great Britain, R.W. Butler, who published a landmark study on tourism in 1980 and recently revisited the topic in 2010 in a two-part book titled “The Tourism Area Life Cycle,” for which the Hamptons appear to be a textbook case.

I will avoid citing the minutiae contained therein, but suffice to say we are at the critical tipping point of “tourist capacity leading to development restrictions,” where a sphere of conflict exists between two social groups, the tourists and the local inhabitants, also referred to as the period between “flourishing and collapse.” Sound familiar?

Given that Mr. Butler still travels, lectures and writes extensively, perhaps there is still time to bring in a specialist in the field to see if there is hope for survival and recovery, or if life support is the only option.

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