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Weekend traffic near East Marion lavender farm has residents concerned

07/06/2016 6:00 AM |

East Marion traffic

On a typical Fourth of July weekend, Main Road in Orient and East Marion is already stressed to a breaking point, as hundreds of tourists head east visit the picturesque farms at the tip of the North Fork.

This particular Fourth of July weekend’s visit by a sitting Supreme Court justice certainly didn’t make matters any easier.

And when you added in the phenomenon of tourists pouring in to see the blooms at Lavender by the Bay farm in East Marion — well, the area’s only east-to-west road just couldn’t handle the demand. The result was a traffic jam that had cars at a standstill Sunday between Greenport and Orient, causing half-hour delays over a three-mile stretch.

“That was just a killer,” said Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley. “It was the perfect storm that day.”

And while the police and an owner of the lavender farm said they’re working together to prevent similar gridlock this coming weekend, neighbors weren’t happy with the effort made so far and demanded more planning to prevent what they see as a public safety hazard.

“I think the town needs to do something because we’re a tiny hamlet and we can’t handle this kind of volume,” said Anne Murray, president of the East Marion Community Association. “It was horrific traffic.”

Though Lavender by the Bay has been in operation for more than a decade, the farm has become especially popular with Asian tourists in recent years, due in part to a 2000 Hong Kong romance film that featured the purple flower prominently.

Roughly 1,500 people visited the farm this weekend, said Chanan Rozenbaum, whose family owns Lavender by the Bay.

“This was the first time that traffic got to the level that it did,” he said. Mr. Rozenbaum said the family had spoken to police before the bloom to alert them to the potential for traffic problems.

“We try and do our best,” he said. “We’re not trying to add a strain to the neighborhood; it’s not our intent. Our intent is to have a beautiful farm for the community and for people to come and experience it themselves.”

Two traffic control officers were stationed in the area, but Chief Flatley said the holiday weekend made it difficult for the Southold Police Department to spare additional manpower to direct traffic.

“It just overwhelmed the area,” he said.

The chief stressed that the decision to put traffic control officers in place there was a unique circumstance because there’s only one road through the hamlet. The police department can’t spend every weekend at the site, he said, since that would set a precedent for other businesses that want the town to provide traffic control officers.

“If we start doing that, manpower’s going to evaporate quickly,” the chief said.

The traffic jam affected not just local residents, but passengers heading to and from the ferry in Orient, according to Stanley Mickus, director of marketing and public affairs for Cross Sound Ferry.

Mr. Mickus said dozens of people missed their ferry reservations because of the traffic. Luckily, the company had some openings on other crossings and was able to accommodate those who missed their rides.

“It was an atypical Sunday for us because the holiday fell on a Monday, so Monday was the busier travel day,” he said. “If that were a typical Sunday, when all of the boats are booked, it would have been a big issue.”  

Orient Association president Bob Hanlon said some of the organization’s board members had trouble traveling east through Sunday’s gridlock.

“I’ve seen traffic jams in and around the lavender farm before, but never quite that extensive,” he said. “It wasn’t death and destruction, but it’s frustrating.”

Ms. Murray said some customers at the farm used parking spaces at the nearby firehouse when the farm’s parking spaces filled up. Others, she said, littered and held picnics on residents’ lawns.

“I think we’re just lucky that nobody needed an ambulance,” she said.

Ms. Murray — who was unable to leave her block this weekend due to the traffic — was also unhappy with marketing from the farm that went out on social media, which she said brought more customers to the area on the busy holiday weekend. While she said the business should be allowed to advertise and be successful, Ms. Murray said a “balance” is needed.

“[Owner Serge Rozenbaum] has to think of the consequences,” she said. “This is a community of residents. It’s a two-square-mile hamlet and it’s jammed full during the summer time … He doesn’t realize the impact on the community here and he should take that into consideration.”

But Chanan Rozenbaum said the farm does its best to deal with the influx of tourists by banning buses from its property and trying to obtain more parking spaces. Mr. Rozenbaum said the traffic jam “wasn’t only a result of the farm but it was a result of the holiday weekend and people coming out to the island.”

Mr. Rozenbaum said he expects the traffic problem to be easier to handle this coming weekend, as the lavender bloom is finishing up and will then be harvested. Chief Flatley said the department is already planning to add more resources to the area to prevent another traffic jam.

“It’s going to be a priority to keep that roadway flowing this weekend,” he said.

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