The Montauk Hero Beach Club, formerly known as the Oceanside Resort, also formerly known as the Smiley Face Motel, has been before the East Hampton Town Planning Board since early 2017, seeking approval for a site plan that includes a restaurant. The application came up again for review by the board on December 4.
The motel was built pre-zoning code, and, as such, could have continued functioning as it has since the 1950s; a motel at the entranceway to downtown Montauk on Montauk Highway, just a dune away from the Atlantic Ocean.
However, the ownership group, headed by Jonathan Krasner, had a different vision for Hero Beach. Partnering with Bridgeton Holdings, a luxury resort and hotel management organization, the site was renovated and transformed from a somewhat sleepy motel into an upscale operation, complete with an on-premises bar.
As a motel built before the zoning code was written, the fact that most of the parking spaces used at Hero Beach Club are in the public’s right of way on both Montauk Highway and the western side of the property, along South Eton Street, was moot, since the motel’s parking scheme was grandfathered in. But adding the restaurant meant that the site would have to meet town regulations regarding the number of onsite parking spaces for both the motel and the restaurant, which made obtaining approval a challenging chore for the club’s representatives, Britton Bistrian and Tiffany Scarloto.
That the owners had obtained a liquor license and built a bar without permits from the town did not help the applicants’ standing with the planning board. Nor did a series of signs posted until earlier this year claiming public parking spaces were on the motel’s private property. That the liquor license allows up to 499 patrons to be served at any one time was yet another hurdle the applicants had to get over with the board.
Recently, the applicants offered mitigation to the parking dilemma in several ways. They have agreed, if granted site-plan approval, to install a new septic system. They have also agreed to cap the number of customers on the property at any one time to 200, excepting occasions when Hero Beach obtains a mass gathering permit from the town. In addition, they are adding 11 parking spaces on the south lawn of the motel.
Bistrian and Scarloto have been pushing to have the application deemed complete, so that it could be scheduled for a public hearing. The board has been adamant that, without a real solution for the discrepancy between the number of onsite parking spaces the code requires and the number Hero Beach is providing, the application remains incomplete.
“The code requires 43 parking spaces. We are providing 47,” Bistrian said December 4. “The big issue here is, they are identifying 47 parking spaces,” Samuel Kramer, the board’s chairman, responded. “It is undeniable that 25 spaces are not on their property.”
There are two paths the Hero Beach applicants could take to get past the parking space jam-up they are stalled in. One is to take the matter to the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals and seek a variance from the town’s parking space requirements. The other is for the planning board, after examining all the forms of mitigation being offered for the parking shortage by the applicant, to grant an exemption from the parking requirements, and allow Hero Beach its public hearing. But such an exemption could provide a bad precedent going forward, Kramer warned, adding, “The next applicant will say, ‘What about us?’”
Ian Calder-Piedmonte suggested the board go ahead with the public hearing, while reserving the right to not issue an exemption for parking until after the hearing is closed. Perhaps hearing from the public on the parking issue might illuminate points board members have overlooked, he said.
Sharon McCobb agreed that public input might be helpful. Eric Schantz, a senior planner for the town, said that lacking both a variance and an exemption from the parking requirements meant the application was not complete. Kramer pointed out that it was not a matter of only a couple of parking spaces, but, rather, a couple of dozen.
Bistrian warned, “If we walk away from this, I think I am inclined to recommend to my client not to go for the variance. That is not a process we want to entertain. So, everything goes away. The upgraded septic system, the number of people on site, and we operate as we operate. I just want the board to consider that in this discussion.”
At the end of the December 4 meeting, Bistrian and Scarloto were to get a public hearing for the application, as long as the board’s secretary, Jodi Walker, received a letter by December 11 recognizing the board’s right to veto the parking plan.
That letter was never received. With December 18 being the final planning board meeting of the year, the scheduling of a public hearing will now have to wait until 2020, if it happens at all.