Proposed amendments to the East Hampton Town Code had residents and business owners of the town, and particularly of Montauk, sharply divided during the October 4 public hearing.
The proposed changes cover the number of parking spaces required for motels that want to add a restaurant or bar to the property. Currently, properties that have inadequate parking and were developed before the code was written, have parking spaces grandfathered in. When the owners of such a site come before the planning board now with a site plan to add a restaurant or bar, which is considered an accessory use of a motel or resort property, they are allowed to include the missing grandfathered-in parking spaces, along with 50 percent of the normally required spaces for a restaurant or bar use as an accessory to the property.
That grandfathering of parking spaces to the total parking calculation required for the site would no longer be allowed if the amendments are passed, and the parking calculations for a restaurant or bar would not be as an accessory use, but rather as a principle use.
In addition, the total area taken into consideration by the code for such use would be expanded to include exterior grounds, with a total of one-third of the interior space being allowed for restaurant or bar service, both inside and out.
At the same time, the planning board would be given discretionary power, on a case by case basis, to allow smaller parking calculations if it would not present an “undue” danger or hazard to the public.
Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc has said previously that the current application by the owners of the former Oceanside Resort in Montauk, now called Hero Beach, to be allowed to run a restaurant on the property was not the impetus for the change in the code. That proposal has had East Hampton Town planning board members and the applicant’s representatives wrestling over what the proper parking calculations should be, among other issues.
Hero Beach, also known as the Smiley Face motel for the smiling face emoji painted on its eastern exterior wall, is the western-most motel on Main Street in downtown Montauk, at the intersection of South Eton. The management company running Hero Beach, Bridgeton Hotel Management, which also owns a share in the property, has recently purchased the Atlantic Terrace Motel, which is the eastern-most motel in downtown Montauk. The apparent business strategy displayed on the two properties, as well as Hostway Inn, or Journey East on Pantigo Road in East Hampton, is to buy older properties, pour in a lot of money, and redevelop the sites as upscale resorts.
The company has already obtained a liquor license for Hero Beach, which would, according to State Liquor Authority documents obtained by Springs resident David Buda, a constant observer of town government, allow Bridgeton to serve up to 499 people at a time at Hero Beach Resort, with live music and dancing. The company has also obtained a liquor license for the East Hampton motel, which would allow it to serve up to 200 people on the property at any one time. In addition, Bridgeton has applied for a liquor license for Atlantic Terrace. The details of that application were not known as of press time.
These bookend Montauk motels had neighbors expressing anger last Thursday before the town board. At the same time, business owners and advocates charged that the changes to the code were being rushed through. There were about 20 speakers in total, for and against, with the majority strongly supporting the move by the board.
Cheryl Richer, who lives near Atlantic Terrace on Surfside Avenue, enthusiastically endorsed the new law, calling it a “no brainer.” She said that every morning she finds garbage and debris on her front lawn during the season. B.J. Wilson of Montauk agreed with Richer, saying he supports any laws that will keep Montauk under control. He reported being parked by the dune at the beach entrance to Hero Beach, which is public property, and being told, “to get off, that this is a private beach.”
Stacy Brosnan asked the board to “stop Montauk from becoming the next Coney Island.” It was a sentiment repeated by other residents.
Larry Seidlick, one of the owners of The Beach Club in downtown Montauk, who pioneered the practice of taking run-down motels in Montauk and converting them into high-end resorts, called the business model establishments like the one Beach Club replaced “failing 1970s business models.” He asked how many businesses would the legislation affect.
Laraine Creegan of the Montauk Chamber of Commerce told the board that her constituents were against the legislation. She also complained that businesses were not in the loop in the crafting of the amendments, and that the record should be kept open for her members to respond. Tina Piette, an attorney who has taken on the town in court regarding parts of the code, asked why the amendments were being pushed through by the board. She also asked for a count of how many businesses, not just in Montauk, but across East Hampton, would be affected.
Carl Irace, an attorney who represents Citizens to Preserve the East End, an organization of about 350 members, said they were partially in support of the legislation, but said it didn’t go far enough. “We encourage the board to continue with further action,” he wrote in the document he presented to the board. “Perhaps consider a specific prohibition of bars, taverns, and restaurants as accessories. This would grandfather the existing ones, and close the door on the type of change that will negatively affect the existing community character.”
East Hampton Town Planning Board members had been asked to weigh in, and discussed the legislation the day before the town board addressed the matter. Planning Board member Randy Parsons pointed out several loose ends in the language to his fellow board members. The planning board, overall, supports the legislation. Its attorney, John Jilnicki, is preparing a letter for to present to the town board at its November 1 meeting. Town board members agreed to keep the record open until then, which will allow those for and against the proposed changes, time to weigh-in in writing.