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Town suggests on-site parking at lavender farm to ease traffic

East Marion traffic

Lavender is supposed to be a calming and relaxing herb. But for neighbors of Lavender by the Bay in East Marion, neighbors say the traffic is driving them nuts.

A group of roughly a dozen East Marion and Orient residents flooded the Southold Town Board meeting Tuesday evening to protest the traffic conditions around the farm, which led to traffic jams they said could prove dangerous in an emergency.

“People are afraid there’s going to be a life-and-death situation,” said Anne Murray, president of the East Marion Community Association. “He’s gotten so much business from the city now that the crowds just keep on coming and we can’t handle it.”

But while Town Supervisor Scott Russell said he was “stumped” on how to find a short-term solution to the traffic problem for the rest of this harvest season, he said he could easily see a long-term solution to prevent the same kind of issues next year: have the farm owners use some of their land for extra parking.

According to Mr. Russell, parking is hard to come by in that area because development rights have been purchased by the town in an attempt to preserve open space. However, part of that purchase stipulates that no retail — including parking spaces — be developed at the site.

This has led to a traffic nightmare, residents said, as hundreds of customers who visit the lavender farm each summer block local roads, take up parking spaces at the local fire department and even picnic on residents’ lawns.

Southold Town deployed traffic control officers and a sergeant to the area to provide “more resources” to the spot on Main Road just west of the Orient causeway. Those efforts still weren’t enough, Mr. Russell said.

Lavender by the Bay has grown especially popular with Asian and Asian-American tourists in recent years. Some have attributed the popularity to a well-known Hong Kong romance film that prominently features lavender fields as a symbol of love.

Many residents complained they weren’t able to leave their streets due to the logjam. Robert Hanlon, president of the Orient Association, said he was concerned that first responders wouldn’t be able to get through the traffic in the event of an emergency in his hamlet.

“We are an island, except for that road, and if something happens to us, we have no way out,” he said.

Ms. Murray said a local nursery was forced to close down over the July Fourth weekend when customers couldn’t reach the store due to the traffic. Kate Sepenoski of Sep’s Farm in East Marion said she had a similar experience: corn that had been picked for the Fourth of July weekend went unsold since no one could get past the traffic jams.

“To not be able to sell that product to our valued customers in our community and our transient customers … was pretty disconcerting to us,” Ms. Sepenoski said.

Walter Tramposch, who lives on Rocky Point Road, said he is at “ground zero” of the traffic problems, but has tried to be polite about it. Now he’s fed up. Some of the lavender farm customers picnicked on his lawn, and he saw garbage “piled up on the fence” along the road after all the customers left.

Mr. Tramposch said he was considering getting friends to park along the roadway as a protest, preventing out-of-towners from parking in his neighborhood.

“It’s not the place I wanted to live,” he said. “It’s gotta stop.”

Mr. Russell said he and Police Chief Martin Flatley have been in communication with the owners of Lavender by the Bay and planned to meet with them Wednesday. A family member told The Suffolk Times last week that the farm was trying to be a “good neighbor.”

Mr. Russell said the Main Road’s infrastructure in that area, which is the only east-to-west throughway in the neighborhood, isn’t able to support that level of traffic. But Mr. Russell said the farm itself did have three acres of land currently being used for lavender farming that isn’t bound by the development ban.

Those acres, if cleared and used for parking, would be able to accommodate hundreds of cars, he said, adding that the town would push the owners to make the accommodations in the offseason.

“I’m sorry but you can’t produce from every acre of your farm,” he said. “There’s three acres there, they can do a lot.”

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Photo: Anne Murray, president of the East Marion Community Association, explains the traffic problems around an East Marion farm at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting. She displayed photos of the traffic jams as proof that something must be done. (Credit: Paul Squire)

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