A plan to make another Southampton Village beach exclusive to village residents foundered last week when a group of frequent beachgoers came to a Village Board meeting to speak out against the idea.
The opponents said that designating another beach “residents only” would be unfair to families who pay hundreds of dollars for beach permits each summer, and that restricting beach access deprives people of their right to enjoy the sand and surf. Village Board members found little to argue with, though some raised concerns that the needs of village residents—some of whom complained they frequently couldn’t find a parking space at village beaches last summer, because the lots were full of non-residents’ cars—also must be taken into consideration.
As it stands now, only Dune Beach is exclusive to village residents, and the beach at Road D is the last remaining village beach that does not require a parking sticker.
“I firmly believe that these are not village beaches, but these are beaches in the village, and they should be kept open for everyone,” village resident Tim Behringer told the board last week.
During the Village Board’s April 9 meeting, board member Paul Robinson initially suggested that the board set a public hearing date for a local law to make the Little Plains Beach resident-only. Ultimately, the board declined to schedule a hearing and in interviews since the meeting a majority of board members, including Mr. Robinson, said they don’t plan to pursue such a law this year.
“I prefer to take this year and monitor activity down at the beaches on the weekend and during the week,” Mayor Mark Epley said. Maybe next year, if the statistics show a need, the board will consider designating another resident-only beach, he said.
Mr. Robinson said he was originally going to suggest designating Old Town as an exclusive beach this year, but decided on Little Plains after learning that Old Town was too important to surfers.
As he learned last Thursday, local surfers also revere the Little Plains Beach
“The worst thing you could do would be to close that beach,” said Lutha Leahy-Miller of East Quogue, former owner of Equilibrium Surf Shop in Amagansett and a former vice chairman of the Long Island chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, an international organization dedicated to protecting public access to the world’s oceans, waves and beaches. He said he grew up on the village beaches and wants to be able to teach his son, Milo, to surf where he learned to surf.
“I’ve personally never had a problem parking there ever,” Mr. Leahy-Miller said of finding a spot at the village beach parking lots. “You only have an issue if you try to park in the middle of the day on the weekend in the summer ... but if you try to park anywhere in the middle of the day on a weekend, you’re going to have an issue anyway.”
The prime surfing beach in the village changes every two or three years, as storms change where the breaks are. “Little Plains hasn’t broken in 10 years, but it could happen any day,” he said Tuesday, explaining that even though Old Town is the favorite surfing beach for now, that is bound to change.
He said continuing to fight to keep the beaches accessible isn’t just for the surfers’ sake, but swimmers and fishermen as well. “You have to go where there’s fish to fish, and you have to go where there’s waves to surf,” he said.
Mr. Leahy-Miller warned that the tourism industry also suffers when beach access is restricted.
“Southampton’s image as a tourist destination gets more and more tainted every year and people just go right to East Hampton,” he said, calling East Hampton Village’s beaches “much more user friendly.”
Mr. Robinson first proposed adding a second resident-only beach back in January, when the board began to discuss the 2009 beach parking fees.
The board decided on the fees in February: Village residents would continue to pay nothing for parking stickers. Non-residents—that is to say, residents of the Southampton school and fire districts who live outside the village—will pay $225 for parking passes this summer. Non-resident seniors older than 65 and veterans will have to pay only $175 for their first car and full price for each car after that. Everyone else who isn’t a village resident and is looking for a summer parking sticker must pay $350 per car.
“I don’t disagree with the permits, because I think the village does a great job cleaning the beaches and maintaining them,” said Mr. Behringer, a volunteer beach warden for the Southampton Town Trustees and a founding member of the Southampton Association for Beach Access. But completely taking access to the beaches away is unacceptable to him, he said.
Mr. Behringer said it’s worth fighting every restriction put on beach access because once restrictions are put in place they tend to never be lifted.