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Jun 23, 2012 2:55 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Examines Ways To Address Substandard Private Roads

Jun 27, 2012 11:42 AM

Some of the 117 miles of unimproved roadway in Southampton Town are quaint country streets, or even dirt roads, whose residents enjoy the rustic rural character they lend the neighborhood and the traffic-slowing effect they have.

But many of the private roads are torturous trails, cratered with potholes and ruts and crumbling decades-old pavement that residents say make getting to and from their homes a slow and bumpy process, not to mention a potential safety hazard should an emergency arise, because they are not cleared by town snowplows after winter storms.

The Southampton Town Board met on Friday with members of an advisory committee formed by residents of some of the more troublesome unimproved roads to discuss finding a way to make it easier—and less expensive—for residents of these roads to get their thoroughfares brought up to code and adopted into the Southampton Town Highway Department’s maintenance and service system.

One thing is clear: Solutions will not be simple, nor easy to come by.

“It sounds easy to just pave these roads, but there are drainage requirements, there are grading requirements, there are easements—there’s a lot that goes into it,” Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said on Friday. “If it was as simple as just paving roads, we could get it done.”

Some 4,400 households—an estimated 11,000 residents—in the town live on unimproved roads. The bulk are in the hamlets of Hampton Bays, East Quogue and North Sea. Most were constructed piecemeal in the decades before zoning and planned subdivisions, as housing development cut into woodlands in small chunks. Typically, the roads laid down were intended to be short-term solutions that would then become the base for improved roads once they were completed and connected to other town-managed thoroughfares. But over the decades, front lawns and driveways slowly encroached, and the original base of pavement crumbled, so that, now, if a road is to be added to the town system, it will have to be wholly reconstructed to strict state transportation standards.

Bringing many of the unimproved roads up to standard will require extensive re-grading, the installation of drainage, and, perhaps most vexing, the taking of broad chunks of front yards to widen roads and their right-of-way shoulders to make sure they meet the state standard of 50 feet. Such work can cost up to $400,000 per mile of road.

The town has long had a program by which it will assist residents in covering the costs of the improvements by financing the hefty cost of bringing an entire road up to state and town standards: as long as 51 percent of the residents of a street agree, the cost can be shared by all of them over an extended period. But depending on the length of a road and the number of residences on it, even that system has proven too costly for many.

“We got a quorum on my street to petition to bring the road [up to standard],” said North Sea resident John Watson, who founded and heads the Unimproved Road Advisory Committee, on Friday. “We had no idea it would cost $195,000. Seven hundred feet [of road]—11 homeowners. It came out to $2,700 a year, and many of our neighbors couldn’t afford it. I said, ‘This is a problem.’ Then I found out it was across the entire township.”

During Friday’s discussion, board members and residents skimmed over a number of possible avenues to explore, including steps the town or state could take to escape some of the more stringent State Department of Transportation road width standards, in favor of allowing narrower right-of-ways. They also discussed the availability of federal funding and the creation of taxing districts to pay for the improvements.

Mr. Watson noted that the problem is not as sweeping as the survey of all the town’s unimproved roads might make it appear, since many residents on private roads do not want their streets upgraded.

“Even though there are a lot of roads, we’re not looking to do a federal works project,” he said. “You have, maybe, eight roads that are real problems. If we started with a $250,000 bond and went to the worst roads, maybe we could start chipping away at the issue.”

In the mid-1970s, the town issued a bond to upgrade some of its unimproved roads at no cost to homeowners. A handful of roads in the Bay View Oaks neighborhood of Noyac were improved under the bond, but the program was not continued or expanded beyond those local roads. The Unimproved Roads Advisory Committee was formed, according to a report issued to the Town Board, to rekindle that kind of municipal support of road improvements where they are most desperately needed. There may also be state or federal funding available to help offset or even cover costs to the town, committee members said.

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These roads should be paved and paid for by the entire town, not just the residences who live there.
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Jun 23, 12 4:10 PM
Why? These roads are private and when the people who purchased homes along them they knew the roads were private. My taxes should go up because you bought a house that has a pot-holed dirt road even though you knew it was your responsibility?
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jun 23, 12 5:07 PM
Why? Technically the rest of the Town has been kept from utilizing these private roads due to their "private status". In many cases the lack of drainage has led to flooding problems on Town or County Roads.

There are also Trustee Roads that are in substandard condition and lack any drainage whatsoever! How about the Trustees be banned from instituting any further lawsuits until they address the infrastructure on their dirt roads. Funny thing is they would be glad to take ownership of these ...more
Jun 23, 12 5:16 PM appended by ICE
LOL! Nature, I started typing my reply before I saw your's and had quite the chuckle seeing we started out with that same beginning!
By ICE (1214), Southampton on Jun 23, 12 5:16 PM
1 member liked this comment
Why?-because I already have a good road with no potholes and no drainage problems. It gets plowed first after every snowstrom. Everyone deserves the same treatment.
By EastEnd68 (888), Westhampton on Jun 23, 12 5:51 PM
The minute the Town touches a problem (an old road that was never paved and has drainage problems is a good example) they OWN it warts and all. Forever after it will become the Town's bad decision to solve everyone's problem who has a problem with their road and drainage and damage to surrounding areas, etc., etc. including taking land from individuals to bring the road widths up to standards and making the private road PUBLIC.
Individual private road communities depending factors not even ...more
By maggie (16), East Quogue on Jun 24, 12 8:18 AM
But they purchased their property knowing that it was a private road and it was their responsibility to maintain it as well as plow it. Although I know that the town does plow these roads although it isn't a priority.

Why should they get a tax break for being on an unimproved road, then my taxes should pay to maintain it? That makes no sense.

If they didn't realize the ramifications of buying on a private road, that is not my or your problem.
By bb (922), Hampton Bays on Jul 11, 12 6:32 PM
When a public road intersects with a private road, there is definately an issue. Some public roads shed water drainage onto lower grade private roads and wipe them out during severe rain, passing the burden of repair to the homeowner. The conditions of many private roads in our area can be considered a safety risk to residents if an emergency vehicle can not make it to its destination in a timely fashion. Two years ago, the town past a law that excluding them from plowing private roads during a ...more
By theprogram (37), east quogue on Jun 23, 12 8:10 PM
1 member liked this comment
Did the realtor not inform the home buyer that the road was a private road when they purchased the property? Did the buyer not notice the condition of the road when they purchased the property?

Vince Taldone makes the point perfectly. It does affect property values. You paid less because the property fronts on a poorly maintained road..

This reminds me of people purchasing property next to the racetrack then filing noise complaints.

I just searched the Town code and ...more
By diy_guy (101), Southampton on Jun 24, 12 8:47 AM
3 members liked this comment
Maybe I'm not a math wiz but if it costs $ 195,000 to fix his crap private road and there's 11 residents then it will cost him about $ 900 per year not $ 2700 per year if paid over 20 years.
By tuckahoebob (4), Southampton on Jun 24, 12 8:50 AM
1 member liked this comment
It's not interest free . . .
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jun 24, 12 4:15 PM
Story updated--mistake was in editing...I believe there is flexibility on repayment, but existing agreements are over 10 years, not 20. Apologies.
By Joseph Shaw, Executive Editor (206), Hampton Bays on Jun 26, 12 10:29 AM
Once the Supervisor declares a "snow emergency" all private roads are plowed.
In addition--the town highway dept. is obligated to maintain private roads in passable condition for emergency vehicles.
Finally-- there is a mechanism in NYS Town Law to allow municipalities to to modify the minimum right-of-way down to 30ft
By aging hipster (201), Southampton on Jun 24, 12 5:12 PM
Maybe adding a road or two at a time and incorporating it into the budget would be the way to go.The worst roads first. Or do 5 or six and split the cost with the homeowners. You need something that could be worked into the budget and not bankrupt the homeowner.I think everyone agrees that this should have been addressed years ago.
By Tuckahoe Ted (53), southampton on Jun 24, 12 5:57 PM
But again, why? They purchased their property with the understanding that it was their responsibility. Why should we now take on their mess and spread the cost to the rest of the people who have paid taxes for years to have their roads maintained/ I don't understand what the rest of the town is to gain other than more taxes. oh joy.
By bb (922), Hampton Bays on Jul 11, 12 10:36 PM
Its more than potholes. Some roads flood and flood private homes. Some roads have huge ravines in them that impead egress. Its a health and safety issue. There are handicapped, senior citizens, special needs persons that live on these roads and accessing them is difficult for school buses, community buses, ambulances, energency services etc. This is an urban blight that needs to be addressed.
By North Sea Citizen (568), North Sea on Jun 25, 12 8:04 AM
1 member liked this comment
Not for nothin' but some of these people should have thought twice before buying the houses they did if they now want to complain. Most of the roads that flood due so because they were cut through wetlands. Nothing you can do about that even if the Town takes it over. You can't install drainage because there's no where to drain it too. I've driven through the absolute worst private roads in this Town and making them public roads won't fix the problems. What do these people expect when they ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jun 25, 12 9:37 AM
2 members liked this comment
Many of these homes have been handed down from generation to generation. Quite a few of these folks have Families that have been here much longer than you
By TianaBob (256), S.Jamesport on Jun 25, 12 4:14 PM
1 member liked this comment
Many of these homes have been handed down from generation to generation. Quite a few of these folks have Families that have been here much longer than you
By TianaBob (256), S.Jamesport on Jun 25, 12 4:14 PM
You have no clue what you are talking about. Most of the time.
By Samuel Walsh (17), Southampton on Jun 27, 12 5:22 AM
Which means what exactly? That they should have a longer time to realize that the roads are THEIR responsibility LOL. Who cares who long they've been here?

The other point would be, had they maintained them instead of allowing them to get to desperate disrepair it would be such a major cost now.

Their responsibility which they chose not to take care of.
By bb (922), Hampton Bays on Jul 11, 12 10:38 PM
As the Supervisors says we just can't pave them, there's "Drainage and Grading issues". Ok, without paving the issues are still there Duh, people just want "smoother"access thats it! Notice most aren't complaining about drainage or grading, it's their road who you gonna complain too. Now you can, to the Town on every issue. It doesn't benefit the Town opening Pandoras Box
By The Squirl (36), Red creek on Jun 25, 12 10:19 AM
1 member liked this comment
Dear DIy Guy (63)

You make my the point better than I could. As a former real estate agent and developer, I know that poor road conditions lower prices in general. So yes, the person selling on a dumpy old road will likely get less for their house on average and the new owner would likely pay less. Thus, the town will also get less in property taxes due to the depressed prices.

At our presentation, Councilmember Malone raised the issue because he recognizes the complexity ...more
By Vince Taldone (8), Riverhead on Jun 26, 12 12:06 PM
I fully support working together to provide the least expensive solution, provided the roads meet the same standards as every other road in the Town. You can't cherry pick because a group says it's too expensive. The same rules apply to everybody.

That being said, I cannot believe this is being put forth as "a way to raise revenues". First of all, I think the majority of taxpayers want to cut expenses, not raise revenues through increased assessment.

Secondly, the increase in ...more
By diy_guy (101), Southampton on Jun 28, 12 7:29 AM
They pay less for their property, it is worth less. That was their decision. Now the rest of the town is supposed to spend their money to fix the problem, hence raising the property value of those that chose to live on a private road. Why?

Since these roads present a "danger" the town should require that they maintain the roads to a set standard. you can't have the best of both worlds, lower taxes, and someone else to fix your property for free.
By bb (922), Hampton Bays on Jul 11, 12 10:43 PM
What substandard roads? The ones that the leaves are on waiting for the free pick up? What spoiled planet are you people on? Try traveling the globe a bit then come back and suggest our roads are substandard. The same folks who want me to pay for their private roads would shoot my derrier with rock salt if I ever stepped foot on it. if I'm paying for it to be kept up, then it is public and I shall be using it.
By Stephen Maybaline (18), Southampton on Jun 26, 12 12:31 PM
2 members liked this comment
People should realize that "Private Road" does not give the homeowners any additional rights.These roads should have been incorporated many years ago.The "public" uses them as shortcuts.Let's just figure a way to get it done
By William Simonetti (1), HAMPTON BAYS on Jun 27, 12 8:05 AM
It gives them the "right" to pay less taxes!

Their responsibility. Why were the roads allowed to fall into such disrepair to begin with? Their decisions.
By bb (922), Hampton Bays on Jul 11, 12 10:46 PM
Wait - you buy a house on a dirt road for next to nothing, then pay low taxes because you complain you have no services, now you want ME to pay for a nice paved road for you? Take all your savings & install your own road. My taxes are high enough, thank you. Or, get together with your neighbors & split the cost. In order for Town to do this, someone has to pay for a survey, title work to find out who owns the roadbed, then get deeds if necessary, recording charges, then grading, paving, drainage, ...more
By Ms. Jane Q. Public (147), Southampton on Jun 27, 12 11:04 AM
4 members liked this comment
Who put the photos for this article together? Three shots of essentially the same thing is an insult to your website, one would've been sufficient, but better yet photos of a few other unimproved private roads.
By ICE (1214), Southampton on Jun 27, 12 5:24 PM