After meeting with their town boards last week, then teleconferencing with fellow supervisors from across Long Island, East Hampton’s Peter Van Scoyoc and Southampton’s Jay Schneiderman addressed the challenges of reopening parks and beaches after the PAUSE period mandated by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo expires. The pair also spoke about the hotel industry, and the challenges those owners face. Both supervisors have similar views on some aspects of reopening.
Schneiderman spoke to The Independent on May 3. He would like to open Southampton’s town beaches by Memorial Day weekend, though he acknowledged that such an opening would hinge upon directives issued by the governor and the choices made by his fellow Suffolk County supervisors.
“If my beaches are going to be the only beaches open Memorial Day on Long Island, I am concerned about that,” he said.
Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar told her fellow supervisors during Friday’s teleconference she would not be bringing lifeguards on until the beginning of June at the earliest. Van Scoyoc would not rule out Memorial Day weekend staffing, but added, “I don’t think I can commit to a timeline just yet.”
On Monday, Cuomo laid out a series of metrics each region must meet before reopening. Long Island came up short on several, such as an increase in the surge capacity of hospitals.
Schneiderman said he has been monitoring the groups that have been gathering on local beaches the past couple of weekends. “There wasn’t a problem,” he said. “People were social distancing. The beaches were crowded, but there were no issues.”
“We are currently discussing staffing and managing separation and social distancing at access points and on our beaches,” Van Scoyoc said May 4. “We are going to have to figure out a way to get people on and off the beaches. We are not trying to dissuade people from coming out to the East End.”
For many visitors, “Montauk is their happy place,” he said, adding each beach access location poses its own unique set of challenges. “We are preparing to meet those.”
One of those unique locations is Montauk. Van Scoyoc told East Hampton Town Board members last week they should be open to new ideas and approaches in dealing with reopening.
“Downtown Montauk was laid out to be one-way streets,” the supervisor said. He believes a new-old approach could work, particularly south of Main Street. Areas south could be reserved for pedestrian use only, possibly even returning to the concept of one-way streets. This could create space for visitors to enjoy themselves while social distancing, but requires temporary zoning law changes.
Both supervisors agreed that wearing masks remains important in the fight against COVID-19.
Schneiderman suggested making foot traffic at pedestrian access point paths one-way as well. He noted Southampton has 300 miles of coastline.
“A lot of the beaches are very expansive,” he said, adding there is plenty of room, he believes, for beach goers to safely spread out walking away from the access points. He also has the idea of reserving an area of beach near an access point for seniors and those immobile.
Schneiderman believes that by temporarily using some town Trustee roads, more remote areas of beach could be accessed to ensure social distancing.
“We need to be able to make adjustments in real time,” Schneiderman said. “Say Sagg Main Beach’s parking lot is half full, but we feel that we can’t maintain social distancing — I want to be able to say, ‘No more cars right now,’ and turn people away. I would need somebody at each facility with the authority to do that. There would have to be physical obstructions that we can install.”
How will the town do this without angering people who have driven a long way to visit to a specific beach? The creation of a new app might do the trick, Schneiderman said, one that would inform the user when a beach is full and when it’s not.
Both supervisors are also crafting plans to keep restrooms safe from the novel coronavirus.
Businesses Need Help
While some restaurants remain open by offering takeout options, a reality likely to continue, hotels are also in need of help.
“Our local business owners, they live here,” Van Scoyoc said. “They have kids in the schools.”
His office has been meeting with different hotel groups, some of which are still unsure on how to proceed. There is great concern about liability, Van Scoyoc said. He added Airbnb is recommending fully disinfecting rental units and waiting 24 hours.
Schneiderman himself owns the boutique motel Breakers Montauk. It was opened many years ago by the supervisor’s parents.
Keeping a room vacant for 24 hours after someone checks out could be the difference between gains and losses.
Schneiderman said there are two months in a resort-town like Montauk to turn a profit, July and August.
“Those work on short-term rentals — two, three days at a time,” he said. “You could lose a third of the days.”
Schneiderman said he has been exploring ultraviolet disinfecting techniques.
“They have great products out there that kill viruses,” the supervisor said. What to do about swimming pools and protecting the health of staff are also concerns hotel owners have expressed.
The subject of parking permits for non-residents is currently a rub between the two supervisors. East Hampton Town is currently not issuing such permits, which are for summer renters.
“I have been asking that they reconsider,” Schneiderman said, offering a hypothetical example.
Say a rentor in Wainscott is paying $150,000 for the season. Paying that kind of money, they are going to want to go to the beach.
“That puts pressure on my beaches,” he said. “They are going to try to go to Sagg Main or Gypsum Beach. Not everybody lives within walking distance of the beach.”
Van Scoyoc said while the town is not currently issuing non-residential parking passes, it is a matter being worked on.