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Jul 11, 2017 3:19 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Still No Decision On Picnic Area Lawsuit, As Beachgoers Park And Party As Usual

More vehicles were seen along Shinnecock East County Park, which sits just west of the Picnic Area in Southampton Village, on Sunday afternoon. GREG WEHNER
Jul 12, 2017 10:41 AM

Trevor Grunewald of Hampton Bays was at the beach on Sunday, July 2, sporting an American flag bathing suit appropriate for the holiday weekend, while hanging out with friends and family.

As he does on nearly all of his days off from work as a landscaper, Mr. Grunewald, 46, had gathered up his beach gear, packed it into his truck, and drove onto a stretch of beach in Southampton Village known as the “Picnic Area,” joining a group of other families and friends with four-wheel-drive vehicles.

“It’s just our culture,” Mr. Grunewald said. “We grew up on the beach. Our whole life has been at the beach.”

Mr. Grunewald, who moved to Hampton Bays from East Hampton 10 years ago, said his great-grandfather was a whaler, and going to the beach has been a family tradition for generations.

That day, the grills were fired up and covered with hamburgers and hot dogs, and kids were running around, throwing Frisbees and boogie-boarding in the chest-high shore break, as families congregated between their cars and trucks on the sand.

Mr. Grunewald and his crew looked out at the ocean while basking in the sun in their beach chairs, sipping on ice-cold beverages on the 80-plus-degree day. Even a fog bank that rolled in mid-morning didn’t stop their plans on their day off for the week.

Over the last few years, they’ve worried that something else might.

Mr. Grunewald and families like his have been concerned about losing the ability to drive and park on the beach during the day ever since a lawsuit was filed in 2015 by nearby homeowners. The waterfront property owners grew tired of looking out at a sea of vehicles instead of simply the beach, and went to court seeking to prevent vehicle access to the Picnic Area, which is the only place in Southampton Town that allows beach driving during the summer months.

No decision has been made regarding that lawsuit, but on May 31, attorneys for the State Department of Environmental Conservation, Village of Southampton, Southampton Town Trustees and the Araskog family—Kathleen Araskog Thomas, Andrew S. Thomas, Rand V. Araskog and Jessie M. Araskog—met for a conference with State Supreme Court Justice Daniel Martin in Riverhead. Since that meeting, a decision on whether to go to trial was left in Justice Martin’s hands. It is not clear when he will make a decision.

Mr. Grunewald and others who love spending down time driving on the beach don’t want to see their way of life change. “Just because a few people decide they don’t like the view that might not even be here in five years?” he asked. “Someone else might come down here and tear down their house and build something else they want.

“They think they have the right, but we have our rights too,” he added.

“Every time you go in front of a judge when it comes to beach access, it’s concerning,” said former Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley. “You don’t know how they are going to lean. My thing has been to keep it out of the court systems.”

The Southampton lawsuit was filed by attorney Nica B. Strunk, on behalf of the Araskog family, in October 2015. The suit claims that the Village of Southampton and the Southampton Town Trustees are unfairly and illegally allowing vehicles on a small portion of the beach in front of the Araskogs’ home during the day in the summer months, while excluding vehicles from other beaches. Also named as a defendant in the lawsuit is the State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Calls to Ms. Strunk this week were not immediately returned.

While homeowners along the oceanfront in Southampton Village own the beach from their house to the mean high water mark, the Town Trustees hold a public access easement along all ocean beaches within the town, which extends from the crest of the natural dunes to the high tide line. The Dongan Patent, from 1686, established that easement and allows the Town Trustees to regulate activities in that zone, such as fishing and collecting seaweed.

In the Picnic Area lawsuit, the homeowners claim that village and town ordinances designate the 2,000-foot stretch of sand as the lone daytime access point for vehicles in the town, which puts an unfair burden on those who live next to it, and therefore violates equal protection statutes of the U.S. Constitution. They also claim that Picnic Area beachgoers are rude, get drunk on the beach, defecate and urinate in the dunes, and leave their garbage.

An image presented before a Southampton Village Board public hearing last year depicted rows of four-wheel-drive trucks and SUVs along the stretch of sand—something Mr. Epley said is rare. On a typical day, the vehicles are not layered two or three deep from the beach toward the dune, though that can happen on the busiest days.

“When you have a picture of one day, and present that to a judge, that’s the hard part,” Mr. Epley said. “A picture’s worth a thousand words.”

On July 2, the number of trucks at the beach was far less than what was depicted in the photo presented. Instead, the trucks were spaced out in a single row along the beach.

In 2016, Mr. Epley sought to cap at 175 the number of vehicles that can access the Picnic Area at any given time, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and park on the sand. No decision was made, and no cap was put in place.

On Monday, Mr. Epley defended his efforts, saying the number of vehicles he sees at the Picnic Area during the busy days is normally far less than the 175-vehicle cap that he was seeking. He said he was just trying to keep this case from going in front of a judge.

He said he was hoping to see the Town Board and Town Trustees take action to possibly open more beaches for beach driving during the summer months, but they did not.

One beach that was looked at by the Trustees was Hot Dog Beach in East Quogue, though Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman put that to rest in December 2016, saying the beach was already being considered as a sunbathing area, and the off-road vehicles could put the sunbathers in harm’s way.

Instead, Mr. Schneiderman recommended the Trustees look at a stretch of sand to the west of the Ponquogue Beach Pavilion in Hampton Bays. At this point, the Trustees have not opened any additional areas for beach driving.

Southampton Village Mayor Michael Irving said as a kid, he used to camp at the beach, and it was rare to see a vehicle pass by during the night. Now, he said, everyone owns a four-wheel-drive vehicle, and the density along the beaches has increased dramatically.

Mr. Irving echoed Mr. Epley, saying he doesn’t think the Town Trustees have done enough to open more beaches, creating pressure on the Picnic Area.

“I think they gotta push harder,” Mr. Irving said. “The general public wants more access.”

But opening more beaches involves a lot more than waving a wand and granting people access, according to Southampton Town Trustee Scott Horowitz.

One of the problems the Trustees face when looking at a piece of beach to open is whether or not the endangered piping plovers are in the area. If they are, then the Trustees risk being fined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife if the birds are harmed in any way.

The authority the Trustess hold over this easement along town beaches has eroded slowly, and according to Mr. Horowitz, the Trustees need to work with the authorities before considering any additional beaches.

“People want to point fingers, but, look ... we have to be compliant with U.S. Fish and Wildlife,” he said. “We’re trying to find some balance that makes sense.”

As for the lawsuit, some people are worried that the judge’s decision could kill off a tradition that people like Mr. Grunewald believe is rightfully theirs.

Though a decision is still pending from Justice Martin, the beach still remains open, without limits beyond what the law currently states.

Steven Stern, an attorney from Carle Place-based Sokoloff Stern LLP who represents the Southampton Town Trustees, made it clear that there is no motion for a preliminary injunction, and there is nothing filed with the courts to close down the beach until a decision is made.

Craig Goulding, 43, of Hampton Bays, was at the beach with Mr. Grunewald, and also expressed his discontent with the situation, pointing out the problem isn’t with the people who live in Southampton year-round.

“It’s ridiculous,” Mr. Goulding said. “These people are here for half the summer. They use it, maybe, every other week. I don’t understand what their big complaint is.”

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The "picnic area", known as Stovies to most of us was declared a 24/7 4x4 beach in the mid 80's , each and every "effected" homeowner fronting our last bit of accessible beach purchased their home after that date with full knowledge of the situation. There suit us nothing more than an attempt to increase their property value at our expense. As to Mr Horowitz' comments, a faction on the Town Board of Trustees had obstructed every opportunity to increase our access. The latest farce is their refusal ...more
By bigfresh (2836), north sea on Jul 11, 17 7:28 PM
I would go further i suspect this homes were built in the late 80's early 90's. why didn't the people who use the picnic area lobby the village to keep that area free of any construction during the 1980's? Bigfresh i tend to agree with a lot of your posts please give me some answers.
By JM11968 (59), southampton on Jul 12, 17 11:53 AM
The property owners had every right to build their houses, no one is disputing that fact. Lobbying to the contrary would be a waste of time and political capital.
UPDATE: The Village has dumped a couple of truck loads of sand on Road A in an attempt to restrict our access! They also installed a NO PARKING sign , without a public hearing or ordinance change, Village Trustee meeting tomorrow ( Thursday) evening at Southampton Village Hall 6:00 PM , please show up and let the new mayor know that ...more
By bigfresh (2836), north sea on Jul 12, 17 6:09 PM
1 member liked this comment
Yes, however if there was no homes on that end of Meadow Ln. no one would care if the public drove on the beach.
By JM11968 (59), southampton on Jul 12, 17 9:53 PM
1 member liked this comment
bigfresh, for those unable to attend tonights meeting, are the Village Trustee meetings held every Thursday at 6pm ??? ty
By toes in the water (514), southampton on Jul 13, 17 7:06 AM
The Village (or someone) dumped the sand on Monday July 10. This was AFTER Sunday, when someone SLASHED the tires of 6 cars that were parked on Road A legally (no signs of any kind) on July 9. The police were called to Road A that day. Where is the police report? SH Press, are you going to follow this lead???!!!???
By mkc (1), Southampton on Jul 13, 17 7:55 PM
As far as I know, the Village and Town are 2 separate entities. Where is this "picnic area"?
By BarryMcConnell (14), Hampton Bays, New York on Jul 12, 17 8:56 PM
Not impressed with the headline in the paper for this article. .."Is the Party Over?" Its not a party for everyone on the beach Greg, Its a day of tradition with generations of family for MANY of us. "Tradition Matters"

The main photo in the online version of this article should be of the Picnic Area rather than a photo of Shinnecock East , where canopy tents are allowed( unlike at the Picnic Area). Its misleading IMO. Though Id like to think the point of the Shinnecock East photos is to ...more
By toes in the water (514), southampton on Jul 13, 17 7:01 AM
If they are going to open up other beaches let the do it in Southampton and stop making Hampton Bays have to take the brunt of everything.
By kathleenkate (1), Hampton Bays on Jul 13, 17 12:07 PM
2 members liked this comment
Oh please, there is no homes on the HB side of the inlet I say its the best spot for beach driving.
By JM11968 (59), southampton on Jul 13, 17 11:47 PM
Who can we write to about supporting 4 x 4 access? It is especially wonderful for the elderly and disabled to have easy access to the shore, (without walking through the challenging sand). Its also a wonderful family tradition for those folks who can't enjoy the water by boat.
By QuietLife (61), Southampton on Jul 13, 17 12:31 PM
1 member liked this comment
Call our Town Trustees, they are the ones who have the authority to make it happen. Hot Dog Beach would be a great start. Even though there are some piping plover issues in some locations , they should get all the legal wrangling out of the way, codify the beach for 24/7 4x4 access and just open it when the damn birds are fledged! Use what power you still have gentlemen, you owe it to those who put you in office.
By bigfresh (2836), north sea on Jul 13, 17 4:05 PM
The area on the east side of the inlet is about 10x wider as Hot Dog Beach. There's no way that dune on Hot Dog can sustain repeated truck parking. It's not a solution. The solution is to maintain the privileges of Southampton Town residents as they are, not give them away to deep pocketed rich folk who hire expensive lawyers to sue us into submission.
By davidf (325), hampton bays on Jul 13, 17 4:14 PM
I think there are 2 Village Board meetings per month? Check the Village web site for dates and times. David F. No one is parking in the dunes, the Triton Lane/ Hot Dog beach area is large enough to support a limited number of vehicles.
By bigfresh (2836), north sea on Jul 14, 17 8:43 AM
1 member liked this comment
I really don't care about Village meetings, I am a Town resident, not Village.

As for Hot Dog -- It is really not an equivalent size -- it's a red herring to get folks thinking that giving up the existing truck beach for Hot Dog is an option. I have personally seen piping plover nests all over that dune which is at most 30 yards wide at high tide. The beach east of the Inlet is at least 200 yards wide, and the dunes there are much deeper. Except of course where they were destroyed by ...more
By davidf (325), hampton bays on Jul 14, 17 12:15 PM
David F, I care about the Village meetings re: more beach access and I'm not a village resident. Did you happen to see the photo depicting the residents from Hampton Bays , Flanders, Sag Harbor and Smithtown who frequent the Picnic Area in Southampton? Did you not pick up the that? Do you not see how badly more beach access is needed throughout the Town of SH ? Even if Hot dog Beach can hold 50 vehicles on the beach, its relieving the Picnic Area of the congestion.
By toes in the water (514), southampton on Jul 15, 17 8:07 AM
That beach won't support 5 trucks and will be closed by the Federal regulations regarding endangered species. The better beach to open is in front of the Dune Deck -- which will never happen because that would disturb rich people as well. Go to the beach yourself and see.

I don't care about village meetings. The village doesn't have any jurisdiction over Trustee beaches.
By davidf (325), hampton bays on Jul 16, 17 7:12 AM
Not sure where you came up with the idea that there is any intention of giving up Stovies in exchange for Hot Dog Beach, we need ADDITIONAL access and Hot Dog can provide it.
By bigfresh (2836), north sea on Jul 14, 17 12:32 PM
1 member liked this comment
It is extremely sad that primarily one wealthy family, being the Araskogs, could be so powerful as to continue to push their argument as long as they have been doing. Shame on their Southampton based attorney for representing them on this case. If justice prevails, which is becoming seemingly uncommon lately; especially when wealthy people are involved, then the Dongan Patent will have proved true.
By Lets go mets (318), Southampton on Jul 14, 17 11:11 PM
Def sad that this family would chose to purchase a second home here an than start a war with the community. Im sure its not just the locals who dont appreciate this type of behavior . But lets try not to blast the SH attorney who's simply doing her job.....
By toes in the water (514), southampton on Jul 15, 17 8:16 AM
1 member liked this comment
Calling "shame" is not a "blast".
By davidf (325), hampton bays on Jul 16, 17 7:14 AM
No. Blast her. Its warranted.
By SlimeAlive (549), Southampton on Jul 16, 17 7:49 AM
Believe me, I'm less than impressed with all of this. Its absolutely disgusting hands down! I did my fair share of Araskog blasting on this site last year but what good does it do us all ? Its only antagonizing this group . I think its important that we try and stick to the facts an use our anger towards finding ways to end these absurd lawsuits. As Bigfresh has stated, we need to bombard out elected officials with complaints. Get a group of people together an attend the meetings. Make them hear ...more
By toes in the water (514), southampton on Jul 17, 17 7:29 AM
Caveat Emptor ... "let the buyer beware." A doctrine that often places on buyers the burden to reasonably examine property before purchase and take responsibility for its condition. Especially applicable to items that are not covered under a strict warranty.

The Araskogs bought 2150 Meadow Lane in in 11/2004 after selling a previous property landlocked in the village. They full and well knew the beach front of the property was included as part of the 24/7 drive on picnic area. Their first ...more
By foodwhiner (104), Southampton on Jul 20, 17 3:07 PM
The attorney working for this family should leave town in shame. She is single handedly undoing 300 years of healthy tradition for a paycheck. It's disgusting.

By SlimeAlive (549), Southampton on Jul 16, 17 7:48 AM
Maybe Saba could devise a letter, one in which we can obtain a copy , sign our name , date it, and mail this complaint letter off to the intended Officials. This way the agenda is properly addressed and allows for the community to gain a better perspective. Theres alot of people who dont know specifically what to write in these letters. Either providing us with some guidelines , or doing the work for us will help ensure the Village Officials are getting our complaints.
By toes in the water (514), southampton on Jul 17, 17 7:37 AM
The Trustees are impotent small thinkers. What SABA has in passion they lack in effective leadership and organization. You're screwed if you like the drive on beach.
By even flow (419), East Hampton on Jul 17, 17 8:34 AM
Well I have to agree with you on the Saba remark. Basically if your not on Facebook, very little info is provided to the public by Saba. So many of us rely on the Press and hearsay.....
By toes in the water (514), southampton on Jul 18, 17 7:12 AM
Does anyone know when or IF Saba holds re-elections for a possible seat on the board?? I know a few people who would like to have a position....

Seems its been the same members for years.....
Seems its time for a change......
By toes in the water (514), southampton on Jul 18, 17 7:15 AM
Contact any SABA board member and let them know you want to be on the board, I resigned so there's a vacant spot.
By bigfresh (2836), north sea on Jul 22, 17 7:33 AM
The thing the Trustees, the Town and the Village should really enforce is the people who drive on the beach without permits. Go to Scott Cameron or Mecox on any weekend evening. There are dozens of vehicles with no permit stickers on the beaches. I've paid for my County, Town and Village 4x4 permits for decades. Yes, the SH Village one is essentially free with the Town sticker but our beaches are over run with non permitted vehicles. As for the headline on this article, it's just more fake news ...more
By G (284), Southampton on Jul 19, 17 8:00 AM
call the Bay Constable whenever you see a vehicle on the beach without a permit. Call the Trustee office during business hours and le them know what's going on, call the SHPD, be the squeaky wheel , take the initiative and make something happen.
By bigfresh (2836), north sea on Jul 22, 17 7:38 AM
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