Despite an impassioned plea, Councilwoman Julia Prince was unable to convince fellow East Hampton Town Board members on Tuesday to take an aggressive stand against Montauk bars and restaurants that are serial violators of town laws and move to shut them down.
Places such as the Surf Lodge and Ruschmeyer’s, which was opened this year by the Surf Lodge owners, have been cited repeatedly for town code violations, Ms. Prince noted, but despite court appearances and fines nothing has changed. The owners simply see the fines as the cost of doing business, she said.
Montauk residents who live within shouting distance of the watering holes have complained all summer about overcrowding, noise, clogged streets, and rowdy patrons.
The hamlet, which has been under the unremitting gaze of the metropolitan media since before Memorial Day, has become a must destination for young people looking to see and be seen. On a recent weekend the Surf Lodge attracted a visit from the Trojan “Good Vibrations” truck, from which free condoms and vibrating rings are distributed.
“I’ve just kind of had it with these establishments,” Ms. Prince, herself a Montauk resident, said on Tuesday. “It’s just not good enough. I think that the people who live here have suffered enough. Are we just going to allow it to happen, or are we going to give some kind of direction to the town attorney’s office? What is the next step? Why can’t we take another action? It’s not fair to the businesses who act legally.”
“Is it a [State] Supreme Court action, or is it revoking music permits?” she said. The town code was amended several years ago to allow for the issuance of town permits for live music, which, said Ms. Prince, “changed every restaurant into a nightclub.”
Police and ordinance enforcement officers have been doing their part, writing summonses when warranted, she said, to no avail. “It’s a drain on our resources,” the Councilwoman told the board.
“If it’s in the court process, we can’t step in,” said Supervisor Bill Wilkinson. “I’m not stepping into the court process.”
“They pay their fines. There needs to be another action,” Ms. Prince responded.
“But that’s within the court system,” Mr. Wilkinson said.
The town board could choose to approach State Supreme Court in Riverhead for an injunction to shut a place down, said John Jilnicki, the town attorney, provided it could show a record of summonses and code violations.
“As a board member, that’s what I’m at this point saying,” Ms. Prince said. “If you have the same establishment doing the same violations over and over and over again, isn’t there a next step when we say you cannot have all of this illegal activity — you can’t just keep operating your business illegally, and we’ll just keep writing fines?”
“This community is going to shutter up after Labor Day,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “This is a tourism community. So where is the balance? We have never sat down to figure out the balance.”
“But you know what?” Ms. Prince responded. “People coming out to get really drunk and leave is different from families coming out and people going fishing.”
“The truth is, we all struggle with quality of life,” said Councilwoman Theresa Quigley. “There are certain groups that like one thing, certain groups that like other things.”
“You’re choosing families,” she told Ms. Prince. “I enjoy seeing young single people. They come out to enjoy what the community has to offer.”
“I get the frustration of the community,” Ms. Quigley added. “Having said that, it’s part of who we are.”
Both Mr. Wilkinson and Ms. Quigley maintained that the problems around Ruschmeyer’s, where the road has been so congested at times that emergency vehicles would have been unable to get through, has abated.
Ms. Quigley said it was “arrogant” of the Surf Lodge owners to park a food-vending truck on-site (for which they have been cited), but “that doesn’t mean we focus in on one organization and say we’re out to get them.”
“I wasn’t suggesting playing favorites,” Ms. Prince said.
She said the hamlet was no longer the community it once was. “The only way it’s going to stop is if someone says, hey, listen, party’s over. You can’t operate all these illegal parts of your business, and pay fines, for three years.”
Driving past some of the party spots in the early morning, she said, “it’s disgusting. The roads are disgusting. Seeing naked people laying at the train station at 6 in the morning is not the community I want to live in.”
“What we did say, about six meetings ago, is we’re going to control that open space, and try to quantify that for a number of people,” said Mr. Wilkinson, referring to discussions about setting a maximum number of occupants at an establishment, not only for indoor areas but for the property over all. That provision is being worked on, Ms. Quigley said.