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Busy East Hampton Intersection at a Crossroads

Mon, 07/08/2024 - 15:55
If voters approve, the red area, known alternately as the Sherrill Triangle or Lions Town Park, could be removed from East Hampton Town's parkland holdings so that part of the land could be used for a new roundabout.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has authorized East Hampton Town to remove, or "alienate," two acres of nature preserve from its parkland holdings with the hope that Suffolk County will further explore placing a roundabout at the East Hampton intersection where North Main Street meets Three Mile Harbor and Springs-Fireplace Roads. 

The preserve is known as Lions Town Park, after the Lions Club, which donated the land in the fall of 1971. The southern portion of the park cuts across where the traffic circle could be built. 

The governor signed a bill authorizing the alienation of the land on July 3. The town has never alienated a nature preserve before. "It is precedent-setting, but it's not our goal to continue that kind of precedent," said Scott Wilson, the town's director of land acquisition and management. 

In 2023, between the busy intersection and a service station at 148 North Main Street, only 200 feet south, there were 24 reported car accidents, according to L.K. McLean Associates, the town's engineering consultant. 

Under town code, the town board next needs to hold a public hearing on the matter, after which it will vote on a resolution that makes alienating the park a public necessity. That resolution will then be the subject of a mandatory townwide referendum, which the board hopes to bring to voters this November. 

If passed, the referendum would give approval to the board to "swap" the parcel with a 3.56-acre lot at 16 Swamp Road, where that road meets Route 114. 

According to a New York State Parks publication, "Handbook of the Alienation and Conversion of Municipal Parkland in New York," when a town seeks to alienate parkland, it must receive authorization from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation through legislation enacted by the New York State Legislature and approved by the governor. Then, to prevent a net loss of parkland, the local government must purchase, and dedicate, replacement parkland.

However, because the town, through the Community Preservation Fund, routinely purchases land, the town was allowed to "swap" Lions Town Park with the Swamp Road parcel, which has been purchased in the last year.

"That piece of land off Swamp Road is far more environmentally sensitive," said Mr. Wilson. "It's superior in every way." 

Lions Town Park, also known to the town as Sherrill Triangle, because it was adjacent to land the town acquired from Edwin Sherrill, was meant to be a gateway park to Springs, when the town issued a $20,000 bond to pay for closing costs on the donated property. In 1992, it was designated a nature preserve. In 2008, when Lisa D'Andrea surveyed the parcel for the town as part of an invasive plant assessment, she found "the northern half pretty much a tangle of invasives, from road edge to road edge." She reported the presence of multiflora rose, mugwort, and tree of heaven, among other invasive species, and noted that the southern half of the triangle was routinely mowed.

Should the November referendum pass, the town would press the county, which thus far hasn't incorporated the roundabout in its $14.5 million road improvement plans -- only in the preliminary engineering phase. Thus far, the county has proposed repaving and adding a curb, sidewalk, bike lanes, and drainage to North Main Street and Three Mile Harbor Road, also known as County Road 40, up to its intersection with Copeces Lane. It also foresees lowering the speed limit from 40 to 35 miles per hour and adding new traffic lights and an extended left-turn lane at Cedar Street and Collins Avenue. Work is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2027.

A spokeswoman for Governor Hochul said that the governor carefully considers input and feedback from county and local officials to give localities the ability to decide what will best serve the community, and that parkland alienation requests are not uncommon.

"Governor Hochul's support for this bill is a tremendous step forward for our community," Town Supervisor Kathee Burke-Gonzalez said in a press release. "The roundabout would significantly improve traffic flow, safety, and improve the overall quality of life for our residents. We are grateful to the governor, Senator [Anthony] Palumbo and Assemblyman [Fred] Thiele for their leadership in making this possible. The feedback from our residents has highlighted the critical need for this roundabout, and their voices have been heard."

There was public support for the roundabout during the 2019 hamlet study process and again during the 2020 Springs-Fireplace corridor study process. The 2020 study specifically recommended a roundabout to help with congestion at the intersection. In May, when the Suffolk County Department of Public Works held a meeting at Town Hall to discuss the proposal, again, residents spoke up in favor of a roundabout.

The county does not seem to be convinced yet. "The roundabout is not part of the existing county project and adding it would increase costs significantly and delay the project," wrote Charles J. Bartha, a commissioner in the county's Department of Public Works. "The town only completed a very high-level cursory review. The county has not commissioned an in-depth study on the feasibility, traffic flow operation and constructability of a roundabout."

At the May meeting, Bill Hillman, the county's chief engineer of highway construction, said it would be far easier and less expensive to add a traffic signal at the intersection. A traffic circle could add another $2 million to the project's cost.

"We look forward to working with County Legislator Ann Welker and the County Department of Public Works should the referendum pass in November to advance this important initiative," said Supervisor Burke-Gonzalez.

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