Complaints Emerge Over Parking Restrictions at Sagg Main

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The Monday night Sagg Main drum circle has become incredibly popular in recent years, drawing the attention of Southampton Town Police. Peter Boody photos

After a Southampton woman complained to the town board last week that traffic control officers were harassing people at Sagg Main Beach on Monday evenings by ticketing their cars, Supervisor Jay Schneiderman headed over himself to check out the scene this Monday.

Like a number of others, he left with a parking ticket himself.

Monday evenings in summer is when a group of drummers known as Escola de Samba Boom offer a free performance and drum circle below the dunes at Sagg Main Beach that attracts scores of grownups, kids, dogs, free-spirited celebrants and two town traffic control officers (TCOs) from the Southampton Town Police Department.

Mr. Schneiderman, who used to drum with the group himself, promised resident Mackie Finnerty that’d he’d stop by to check things out when she raised the issue of the TCOs at the July 24 Town Board meeting.

Traffic control officers writing tickets Monday night at Sagg Main Beach.

She told the board that she and a Sagaponack friend had driven to the beach in the friend’s car to hear what she called “the wonderful music” of the drummers. Her friend did not have a parking permit and when they left the beach they found two traffic control officers ticketing a number of cars with fines of $100, including her friend’s.

Ms. Finnerty complained to the TCOs that there were no signs that made it clear to drivers they needed town beach parking permits on their vehicles to avoid a ticket anytime from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. She also said the TCOs had told her Sagg Main is the only town beach where they are regularly deployed to search for illegally parked cars after the daily crowds of sun worshippers leave the beaches.

“It sounds like harassment to me” aimed at the crowd drawn by the Monday night drummers, Ms. Finnerty told the Town Board.

Contacted Tuesday morning for comment after his visit, Supervisor Schneiderman revealed he’d been caught in the sweep.

“There were quite a few cars ticketed last night,” he responded in a text message. “In the rain/drizzle. The lot wasn’t full. It’s true these cars lacked permits. But the question is, ‘Is this harassment?’ That’s not an easy one to answer as they were parked without proper permits. As an aside, I took my personal car there last night even though I was on official business. I only have a village permit since I haven’t been to a town beach yet. So, guess who got a ticket?”

Asked by text to confirm he was the one who got the ticket and whether or not he thought there was an issue he needed to look into, he answered one question and passed on the other: “Typically I ride my bike to the beach” in Southampton Village “but this year I haven’t had time for the beach. Yes, I got a ticket. I have an employee parking pass but it wasn’t visible.”

Town Police Chief Steven Skrynecki on Tuesday denied that his TCOs are conducting “targeted enforcement” of beach parking rules at Sagg Main. “There’s no targeted enforcement,” he said. “It’s just enforcement of town ordinances.”

At some time in the past, he added — long before he joined the force last year — the Town Board decided to “to regulate that field, requiring it to be permitted parking only between the hours of 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.” He said he didn’t not know for sure whether or not the rules were different at Sagg Main from other beaches.

“They might be,” he said. “The issue is the town has the right to regulate each parking field the way it sees fit and to address situations it might see occurring in that particular lot.” He noted that the Monday drummers draw a large crowd and that could be why the board tightened parking restrictions at Sagg Main.

“Until and if” the town board decides to change the rules, the chief added, “we’ll enforce the 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. restriction.” Meanwhile, “the TCOs are just trying to do their job … We’re not trying to disrupt” the drummers “but there are laws” that are intended “to prevent crowding.”

All beaches and parks close at 9 p.m. so technically no one is allowed to park in any town lot after that.

Ten years ago, there was a crisis when the drummers first appeared. Their rhythms drew so many people to Sagg Main that cars overflowed the lot and were left parked far down the shoulders of Sagg Main Street. Local residents complained about the congestion on the road and on the beach and police regularly swept the area on Mondays issuing tickets.

The parking rules at Sagg Main Beach.

Since then, according to Village Clerk Rhodi Winchell, the Village of Sagaponack has barred parking on the sides of Sagg Main Street during the summer close to the beach; the farther north one heads up the street, the easier the parking restrictions get, with no parking from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on one stretch and no parking from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. further north.

“In conjunction with the town, we are trying to manage traffic down there,” Ms. Winchell said. The parking rules on Sagg Main Street were implemented in phases, first about eight years ago, she added.

Ms. Winchell can tell what’s bothering Sagaponack residents by the complaints left on her phone’s voicemail. Monday night drumming hasn’t been a hot complaint topic lately. “I haven’t had any in a couple of years,” she said.

But somebody isn’t happy about the parking restrictions. Recently the parking restriction sign on Sagg Main Street opposite the parking lot entrance was changed to read permits are required from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. When the TCOs noticed the illicit alteration, the town changed it back, Chief Skrynecki said.

Richard Siegler, a professional musician from Shelter Island, started the drumming event with friends over a decade ago. “For me, it’s 30 or 40 friends playing drums on the beach. That’s all it is,” he said Tuesday.

When people complain to him that they went to see him drum and got a ticket, “I say, ‘What are you complaining about?’ You piss away $500 on some benefit and the music is nowhere near as good.’ The money is going to a good cause and it’s a ticket to a wonderful show. It’s worth it.”

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Peter Boody is news editor of The Sag Harbor Express. Previously he was the editor of the Southampton Press for many years and also edited several other papers, including the Shelter Island Reporter and the East Hampton Press, of which he was founding editor. He was a regular correspondent for the New York Times Long Island section and wrote the novel “Thomas Jefferson, Rachel & Me.”