Representatives of Bridgeton Holdings, the hospitality investment company that owns Journey East Hampton Hotel, which straddles the two properties at 490 and 492 Montauk Highway, were once again before the East Hampton Town Planning Board May 1, still trying to get a permit from the town to legalize a bar they have already built, obtained a liquor license for, and apparently operated for the past year, about a quarter-mile east of Town Hall.
There are several challenges to get that permit.
First, Bridgeton wants to be able to let customers with drinks mingle on what their website describes as “The Great Lawn,” where there are Adirondack chairs gathered around firepits. This lawn, however, abuts a residential district to the south. Board member Ian Calder-Piedmonte pointed out that a bar, under town code, needs to be 500 feet or farther from a residential district.
Second, in order to qualify to have a bar on a motel/hotel property in East Hampton, the establishment must have a total of 25 or more rooms. Bridgeton Holdings gets to 25 rooms at Journey East Hampton only by combining the units on both 490 and 492 Montauk Highway, which add up to exactly 25. The planning board could waive that requirement.
Though planning board chairman Samuel Kramer cautioned against acrimony May 1, it was clear that board members wanted a clear explanation for why they were, in their view, misled the last couple of times Bridgeton came before them.
Eric Bregman, an attorney, recently came on board the Bridgeton team to handle the local matter. Bregman told the board that Bridgeton, which took over the space in 2017, was willing to enter into a covenant addressing the board’s concerns. He said the bar was for service only, and that there was no cash register. Drinks are billed to guests’ rooms.
“What is the date on the liquor license?” Calder-Piedmonte asked.
“It’s about a year ago,” Bregman responded.
The planning board had previously granted a site plan to Bridgeton to allow them to improve the facility, comprised of the former Dutch Motel, and the East Hampton Hotel. When the planning board granted that approval, it was unaware that there was a bar in the hotel lobby. Calder-Piedmonte said that the site-plan presentation by Bridgeton and Laurie Wiltshire, another local representative for Bridgeton, made no mention of a bar at all, despite the fact that they had already obtained a liquor license from the Suffolk Liquor Authority, which allows them to serve up to 200 people at a time on the property.
Besides Journey East Hampton, Bridgeton also owns the Atlantic Terrace in Montauk, along with a minority stake in Hero Beach. A bar was built at Hero Beach without a permit, and a liquor license was obtained from the SLA. In the case of Hero Beach, the license from the SLA allows up to 499 customers on the property at any one time.
Hero Beach is currently in a very similar position regarding the permit it needs from the planning board to legalize its bar, under town code, as Journey East Hampton.
At one point, Bregman said to Calder-Piedmonte, “Let me be direct about this. You want to say that my client is lying, and that he is going to cheat.” Kathy Cunningham responded. “I don’t think it is fair of you to say Ian is calling your client a liar, because things were misrepresented to us. That is a fair assessment for us to say, ‘Look, one thing was said, and another thing was done.’ And that is how it was.”
Kramer stepped in, trying to calm the rough waters. He was willing to grant that the attorney who made the application to the SLA might have been from New York City, unaware of problems bars can create in East Hampton.
Another board member, Randy Parsons, asked, “But aren’t we supposed to be in the loop?”
“Yes,” Cunningham said.
Louis Cortese asked if the board granted the waiver on parking numbers to Bridgeton, would that mean the board would lose the ability to force Bridgeton to install a new septic system? Told that it would, he said that the septic system likely dated from around 1970, and should be replaced.
Several board members pointed out that the two properties are extremely constrained, just as they were constrained the day Bridgeton bought them.
“There are so many areas here that just don’t meet the code,” Cunningham said.
“If you don’t waive it, if you don’t allow the rear yard to be used, you’re basically saying, ‘Okay, no amenity bar.’ That is the alternative,” Bregman said. “That means there will be no bar. If they can’t do it, the economics of it make it impossible. That is the realistic alternative. I don’t mean that as a threat,” Bregman concluded.
“I think we have a long way to go on this,” Cunningham said, seemingly summing up the board’s sentiments.