The list of problems is long, but the potential for improving the area around Springs-Fireplace and Three Mile Harbor Roads in East Hampton is great — and could have positive ripples throughout the broader community. Town officials are working with a consulting firm to first pinpoint the issues in the heavily used area and then come up with solutions to deal with road safety, noise, dust, water quality, visual blight, and a host of other concerns.
People who live or pass through the area bounded by Springs-Fireplace and Three Mile Harbor Roads, North Main Street on one end and Abraham’s Path on the other, are well aware of some of the many challenges. Then there is the potential undercurrent land-use rules for the situation to get a lot worse — in one consultant’s analysis there is the potential for 1.75 million square feet of development within the commercial-industrial zone, mostly in the large gravel and sand pits. Redevelopment or reuse of all of the built sites beyond the already-dense sand pit area would add even more growth.
Trouble spots identified in the consultants’ work range from traffic congestion where Springs-Fireplace and Three Mile Harbor Roads converge to what they called a dangerous left turn at Abraham’s Path and Three Mile Harbor Road. They also listed concern about exposed groundwater in one sand pit, vehicle backups at the One Stop Market complex on Springs-Fireplace Road, odor from a mulching operation, seasonal parking problems near Round Swamp Farm on Three Mile Harbor Road, dust entering residences, flooding, dangers to pedestrians and people on bikes, and speeding vehicles on residential streets seeking shortcuts to get around it all. They identified other specific traffic troubles at Oakview Highway and Jackson Street and where Cedar Street runs into North Main Street. On the periphery of the study area, the consultants noted the potential for negative effects of yet another sand mine, this off Middle Highway.
As solutions, the consultants proposed traffic roundabouts at several intersections: where Springs-Fireplace, Three Mile Harbor, and North Main meet, at Abraham’s Path and Three Mile Harbor Road, and at Abraham’s Path and Springs-Fireplace Road. Another might go where Jackson Street and Oakview Highway converge on Three Mile Harbor Road. But these would be expensive and not everyone likes them; plus some of the problems might be mitigated, they said, by planned county road-widening over the next few years. That work should include bike lanes and sidewalks, they said. Additional bike and walking paths could be laid out to connect them to an evolving townwide system.
A park and public sports center could be designed for the former landfill site at the center of the study zone; Southampton Youth Services, built on another onetime dump, could be a reference point. Large-scale solar electric systems could replace the more-invasive and polluting industries. Commercial clutter that has encroached on front-yard setbacks could be reduced or screened by landscaping. There should also be a survey of the historically Black and Native American Freetown neighborhood, they said.
Among the potential solutions are two that could outrage the owners of some properties but should be looked at seriously: rezoning some of the existing commercial-industrial land for affordable housing and reducing building limits from their present 50 percent of lot size to as little as 15 percent. Tough as this is, it may be what is required to force a shift.
While ideas on what to do with the study area will surely differ, the dialogue begun last month as the study moved into a new phase is the start of a much-needed review.