SLA ignored request from East Hampton to withhold liquor licenses

Planning Board Grills Applicant Over Bar

A new bar at Journey East Hampton, shown here, and similarities to one at Hero Beach in Montauk, had East Hampton Town Planning Board members asking questions November 7. Independent/T. E. McMorrow

One of the executives of Bridgeton Holdings, the owners of the new high-end resort hotel on Pantigo Road, Journey East Hampton, sat in the audience at the East Hampton Town Planning Board’s November 7 meeting, as the company’s local representative mistakenly told the board that Bridgeton had no cross-ownership with the Montauk high-end resort, Hero Beach.

Laurie Wiltshire of Land Planning Services was pressed on the cross-ownership question by Job Potter, the board’s chairman, as soon as she took the podium. She was before the board seeking to legalize a bar at Journey East Hampton that was installed without a permit. Potter asked Wiltshire about a report in that day’s Independent that Bridgeton Holdings, whose CEO is Atit Jariwala, was a partner in Hero Beach. “Absolutely not,” said Wiltshire. “That’s news to me.”

But according to documents on file with the New York State Liquor Authority, Bridgeton Holdings owns a 3.4-percent stake in Hero Beach. More to the point, Jariwala, who owns Bridgeton Holdings, also owns 50 percent of the liquor license for Hero Beach.

Last week, Wiltshire was presented by The Independent with the documents from the SLA showing the ownership structure of Hero Beach. She responded, addressing her previous statement to the planning board, “I actually had no idea. I thought Jon Krasner owned Hero Beach.” In fact, Krasner, who is the public face for Hero Beach management, is just one of about 20 partners in the limited liability company, Oceanside Owners, that owns Hero Beach.

The question of ownership came up because of parallels planning board members were seeing between the development of Journey East Hampton and Hero Beach. Both were rundown motels (Wiltshire called The Dutch Motel and The East Hampton Hotel, the hotels Journey East Hampton replaced, “knockdowns”) that were converted by Bridgeton Holdings into high-end resorts. In both cases, liquor licenses were obtained for the properties without the knowledge of the planning board, and bars were built, again without the board’s knowledge or approval. “I feel that is a breach of trust,” Potter told Wiltshire at the meeting.

The liquor licenses allow both resorts to hold mass gatherings while serving alcohol, up to 499 people at Hero Beach, and 200 for Journey East Hampton. Live and recorded music is allowed at both sites under the liquor licenses, with dancing allowed as well. Wiltshire told the board that the potential gathering of up to 200 patrons on the property was to accommodate the occasional wedding, for which Bridgeton Holdings would still have to obtain a mass gathering permit from the town.

While the board and the East Hampton Town Planning Department had no idea that Bridgeton Holdings applied for liquor licenses, the town attorney’s office was notified in advance, as is required by law. In both cases, letters were sent to the SLA, written by NancyLynn Thiele, an assistant town attorney.

After laying out in each letter why she believed each proposed license would be harmful to the town, Thiele concluded, “To allow this establishment a license to expand the use of the property would conflict with our zoning code. The town requests that no alcohol license be issued for the above applicant at this premises.” The SLA ignored the town’s request to deny the licenses.

Wiltshire told the planning board that the bar at Journey East Hampton was only a service bar for those who would stay at the resort. “We are talking about 24 tables, with 63 seats. This is coming out of nowhere for us,” Potter said. “It just does not look good.”

Wiltshire gave a lengthy explanation about the use of the tables and chairs on the property at 490-492 Pantigo Road. “The hotel is made up of 25 units. That’s 50 people. So, if every single person wants to get a drink at the service bar, and go sit at the pool at the same time, one of them has their grandmother over, and another one has a neighborhood kid visit, you could have 60 something people there, but it’s not a party. It’s not a Surf Lodge. It’s not a Hero Beach,” she said, unaware of the cross-ownership reality.

“But if you can accommodate a wedding, Laurie, you can accommodate a party. That is what a wedding is,” planning board member Ian Calder-Piedmonte responded.

During the meeting, the man Wiltshire identified to the board as one of the owners of Bridgeton Holdings, without naming him, sat in the second row. He did not address the board.

On the liquor license for Journey East Hampton, three owners of the hotel/restaurant business are identified: Atit, Ritesh, and Majendra Jariwala. The three have invested at least $600,000 in the site, the license states. They do not own the property itself. The landlord is identified as Alex Demetriades of Floral Park.

Wiltshire was asked why, if the intent was to simply serve liquor to the guests staying at the hotel, did Journey East Hampton’s website present a lavish display of the grounds and places where one could sit and have a drink?

“That was staged for the website. A staged picture for marketing purposes,” she replied. Ed Krug, a member of the board, countered by saying, “But Laurie, that shows an intention. This is not a great start for this application.”

Krug pointed out that when Journey East Hampton came before the planning board in July and August, seeking modifications of a 16-year-old approved site plan, owners knew they had already applied and received a liquor license and said nothing. “We did not even know this liquor license existed before we came before you,” Wiltshire said, referring to herself and Eric Bregman, the attorney handling the application.

“Well, somebody did,” Calder-Piedmonte said. “The owners, the company, made that application.” Calder-Piedmonte also questioned Wiltshire’s using the term “service” bar. He said that in the restaurant business, a service bar is not where customers order drinks, but, rather, where waiters and waitresses pick up drinks to be delivered to
customers. Planning board member Kathleen Cunningham called the application an apparent “bait and switch.” She told Wiltshire, “You’ve got to start over.”

Bregman said that Bridgeton Holdings would be willing to have him work out a covenant with John Jilnicki, the town attorney who advises the planning board, that would restrict the use of the property if a permit were issued to allow the bar.

“This is going to have to be a strict covenant,” Cunningham said. She also asked if the bar would trigger the need for a newer septic system to be installed.

Potter said there was a pattern revealing itself in the application: “Get a liquor license, open a bar, then fight it out,” he said.

Atit Jariwala was not immediately available to respond to this article, though a representative of his indicated Friday he would be amenable to discussing the situation.

t.e@indyeastend.com