With the season looming for places like the Surf Lodge on Montauk’s Fort Pond, the company that owns the controversial and popular night spot, which has been in and out of court on almost 700 alleged zoning code violations, is seeking a ruling from the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals that would allow it to get up and running. On Tuesday night, the Surf Lodge deliberations were on one of two appeals before the panel challenging decisions by the town’s senior building inspector, Tom Preiato.
The Surf Lodge property is zoned for residential use, but because a bar or motel has been at the site since before the zoning code was written, it is allowed to continue in business but is not allowed to expand. Mr. Preiato had refused to give the Surf Lodge a certificate of occupancy because, in his opinion, a portable station on the club’s deck, where drinks are made and cutlery handled, constituted an expansion. Edgemere Montauk L.L.C., the club’s owner, was represented before the board by Eric Bregman, an attorney with Gilmartin and Bregman of Southampton.
Before opening the hearing, Alex Walter, Z.B.A. chairman, cautioned the 20 or so in the audience that the appeal was narrow. “We’re not going to talk about the parking. We’re not going to talk about the noise. We’re going to talk about this unit only,” he said.
Mr. Bregman argued that the station did not constitute an expansion of the floor space or an enlargement of the building, but rather, he said, a contraction of the space. “I think Mr. Preiato is terrific at his job, but I think he was dead wrong about this,” Mr. Bregman said. In answer to a question, he said the owners were free to move what is called a wait station from one area to another as long as they did not expand the gross floor area.
“We’re not increasing the capacity of the Surf Lodge. You could put tables on that deck. You could come in and wheel out a barbecue, have a barbecue. You’re using the use that is permitted,” he said.
“So you’re saying this is just an accessory to the main bar that is already there?” Mr. Walter asked. Mr. Bregman answered yes.
However, Jeremy Samuelson, representing the Concerned Citizens of Montauk and the Group for the East End, which support Mr. Preiato’s determination, argued that the station did constitute an expansion. He cited words in the code to the effect that pre-existing buildings shall not be enlarged “or added to.”
Under the code, he said, the station was a structure, and, as such, not permitted without a variance regardless of whether it was temporary. The owner was not seeking a variance, however.
“There’s a well-worn path here when somebody wants to expand a pre-existing condition. It involves the planning board; it involves the zoning board,” Mr. Samuelson said.
Edgemere Montauk also has an application before the East Hampton Town Planning Board seeking site plan approval. The application was triggered by the addition of the portable station and several other alterations on the property.
The board voted 4-0 to close the hearing and has 62 days to make a decision. Brian Gosman, who is a member of the Gosman restaurant family in Montauk, had recused himself.