Once nicknamed affectionately the Smiley Face motel, for the happy smiling yellow face painted on the wall, the Oceanside resort motel in downtown Montauk has been renamed the Hero Beach Club. The rooms have been renovated and modernized, and an attendant now hands out beach chairs to guests who walk out to Umbrella Beach.
But the owners’ plan to open a restaurant on the property has some members of the East Hampton Town Planning Board doing anything but smile as they consider the site plan the owners have put forward.
The ownership group is headed by Jonathan Krasner, who has previously partnered in the Shagwong and Salt Box in Montauk, and Harlow East in Sag Harbor. His partners include Michael Hensch and Edward Wasserman. The group paid $9.6 million for the motel and has invested well over $1 million in it since.
The group wants to add a 16-seat restaurant to the property, with Bridgeton Hotel Management, headed by Atit Jahwala, running the show. On June 13, the planning board took up the restaurant proposal, and the owners’ request for a permit.
While the proposed restaurant would have only 16 seats, according to the application for a license on file at the New York State Liquor Authority, the owners are planning a much more expansive use of the property. Hero Beach Club wants to be able to serve liquor, wine, beer, and cider to up to 499 customers at a time. If approved, the club would have, on different occasions, recorded music with dancing, as well as live music, featuring, according to the application, “classic rock, beach/surf music, Jimmy Buffett, etc.”
In addition, while the application before the town calls for only a 16-seat restaurant, the application on file with the SLA calls for 30 to 35 tables, with 115 seats.
In the SLA application, the owners list the lawn behind the motel, as well as a “recreational space” and the pool and deck area as open to the consumption of alcohol.
Marguerite Wolffsohn, who heads the East Hampton Town Planning Department, several times during the June 13 meeting explained to planning board members that it was up to them to delineate where on the property Hero Beach Club will be allowed to act as a restaurant and serve alcohol. “You need to say where, exactly, this is going to be,” she said.
Patti Leber, a Montauk resident and board member, pointed out that the expansive use proposed by management appears to go beyond the property itself. She asked about parking signs that have been placed along the western perimeter of the property along South Eton Street. “They put signs up there that say, ‘private parking,’” she said. “As far as I know, that belongs to the town, and not to the motel. It basically says that if you park there you can be towed.”
According to the survey of the property on file with the town, with the exception of a thin sliver of land, all the asphalt spaces on South Eton Street that were marked, as of Friday, with signs reading “Private Parking-Violators Towed at Vehicle Owner’s Expense,” are, in fact, either wholly or mostly the property of East Hampton Town.
Leber also spoke about the danger of the location, where South Emerson Street doglegs into South Eton Street, which also is where beach access is. “It is a blind corner,” she said. “People coming and going off the beach, cars, trucks coming around that corner . . .”
Besides the parking spaces and the roadway, Leber also expressed concern about Hero Beach Club putting out furniture for guests going to the beach, then leaving it out all day.
“I am leaning against this right now. I don’t feel that we are getting the [answers] we are looking for from the applicant,” said board member Randy Parsons. “They are using the public right of way. It is pushing too much.”
He concluded, “Unless the applicant is willing to define the cap on this, I’m not going to vote for it.”
“My concerns have not changed,” said board chairman Job Potter. “Given the liquor permit, given what is being said on the street, I don’t think a 16-seat restaurant is all that is desired to go on here.”
“I’m not a supporter of the project, but we need to get it to a public hearing,” Potter concluded.
A public hearing would have to be scheduled at a future planning board meeting.