Come summer, access to South Fork beaches becomes a sore point for those without requisite parking permits. As in past years, East Hampton taxpayers and those who spend big bucks for summer rentals cannot obtain the coveted passes if they drive rented vehicles; the town assigns them only to vehicles registered at local addresses. These residents believe they should be able to park at the beaches, just like those of us who own our vehicles. It is difficult to think of a reason they are wrong. The question is how to accommodate them.
Under the present policy, beach parking stickers are marked by hand with each vehicle’s license plate number. This is supposed to prevent permits from being shared or sold illegally, and the system usually works. However, given the cost of automobile ownership, especially in urban areas like New York City, where parking can be difficult and expensive, holding onto a vehicle for the sole purpose of summer use doesn’t make a lot of sense even if you own a house here.
Tight control of beach stickers is largely a response to overflowing beach parking lots, especially at popular ocean spots. Forget about finding a space at Ditch Plain, Atlantic Avenue, or Indian Wells this weekend; they are all going to be taken by 11 a.m. The new Hamptons Free Ride shuttle is a nice try, but it is unlikely to attract enough people to make a difference.
It’s a conundrum for officials, but one they should try to solve. If East Hampton could see a way to open a new bathing beach, with lifeguards and restrooms, it would take the pressure off and allow the town to be a bit more flexible in its permit policy.
There are very few town-owned parcels on the oceanfront that would be appropriate for beach parking, however, while the cost of condemning private property to build more parking lots would seem to be a nonstarter. Or is it? Perhaps the time has come to think about whether taxpayers would approve a costly town purchase for ocean access if it were put to a vote or if there was willingness to tap the community preservation fund for the purpose. It would be expensive, but it might just be worth it.