A proposal to expand Agawam Park in Southampton Village is dividing local residents, with many objecting to a plan to close a lakeside road to traffic as part of a Hamptons nonprofit's overall project pitch.
The Lake Agawam Conservancy unveiled preliminary plans last month to more than triple the recreation area's size and build a community garden there under a public-private partnership.
Part of the plan would include closing a quarter-mile of Pond Lane to vehicular traffic and making it a bicycle and pedestrian path.
“I can honestly say the conservancy’s proposal is one of the most polarizing and divisive plans to come before the board in my lifetime,” Laurie Carson, a longtime local resident, said at a Sept. 14 village board meeting.
Carson, 69, applauded the conservancy’s separate ongoing efforts to clean the polluted lake, but she called the park expansion and closing Pond Lane “ill-conceived.”
The proposed expansion to the approximately 3-acre park would be developed on 11.3 acres.
The plan would require Southampton Town to spend $13.25 million in community preservation funds — property tax revenue the town uses for land acquisition — to acquire a 4.8-acre lot the Paulson Family Foundation owns.
The foundation bought the lot and an adjacent 3.6-acre lot for $25 million in 2021, according to conservancy officials.
Other village residents who oppose a Pond Lane closure argued that it would increase traffic to neighboring streets and said the nonprofit's overall plan shouldn't be contingent on such a closure.
However, some project proponents argued that closing the road would be beneficial for safety purposes, for access to the lake and for enhanced stormwater management.
"I understand full well the need to prevent runoff into the lake, but there may be more innovative ways that this can be accomplished without closing Pond Lane,” said Tish Rehill, 69, who owns a village landscaping business.
Brendan Johnston, 39, who lives on Pond Lane north of the proposed closure, said he was “torn” on the issue.
He said his main concern for Pond Lane was safety because cars drive “extremely quickly” down the street with “little regard” for pedestrians and cyclists.
“I’m not necessarily arguing that it needs to be closed, but I’m saying it can’t continue in its current form,” he said.
The conservancy's initial project pitch at an August meeting, which nonprofit officials largely repeated at the latest meeting, included findings from Melville engineering firm Nelson+Pope's traffic study of the area.
The firm concluded Pond Lane can be closed without "significantly impacting" village traffic.
At the recent meeting, conservancy officials also cited a letter from Peter Topping, executive director of Peconic Baykeeper, a nonprofit focused on water quality.
Topping wrote in a Sept. 12 letter to the village board that Pond Lane is vulnerable to stormwater pollution and modern-day "environmental laws would not allow such a road to be constructed so close to a vulnerable aquatic habitat."