The Surf Lodge was in East Hampton Town Justice Court again on Monday to defend charges of 686 violations of town code and 1 fire code violation, and once again, the case was postponed.
Justice Catherine A. Cahill emerged from a closed-door meeting with Pat Gunn, the town’s director of public safety, Robert Connelly, an assistant town attorney, and Colin Patrick Astarita, an attorney for the Surf Lodge, 45 minutes after court was scheduled to be in session.
“We had a discussion in chambers,” Justice Cahill said. “Several proposals were put forward, and some were resolutions. For the bigger picture, nothing bigger is going to happen,” she said.
Justice Cahill set the new court date for March 19, and said this would allow time for the town zoning board of appeals to consider the Surf Lodge’s appeal of the town’s senior building inspector, Tom Preiato’s, determination regarding a food cart and a covered wait service area at its Montauk property. On March 19, the court will consider all of the pending charges, Justice Cahill said.
The owners of the Surf Lodge, Jamie Mulholland, Robert McKinley, and Edgemere Montauk L.L.C., face town code violations dating from May 28 through Sept. 16 of last year for having no building permit, no certificate of occupancy, no site plan approval, illegal clearing of wetlands, property maintenance issues, and overcrowding. The establishment was cited for between 1 and 13 violations daily, until it closed for the season.
The defendants failed to appear for multiple court dates and were issued two criminal summonses and a warrant. There have been several adjournments, and Mr. Astarita filed a motion on Jan. 4 requesting that Justice Cahill recuse herself from the case on grounds of bias, which she refused on Jan. 30.
The Surf Lodge is also seeking permission from the town planning board to legalize a food cart in its parking lot and a covered wait service area on its deck. Mr. Preiato dubbed the project an expansion of use on Dec. 6, and said it would require a natural resources special permit and variances.
On Jan. 25, the planning board agreed with him and referred the owners to the zoning board of appeals.
The property is in a residential zone and has two commercial uses that would not be allowed under current zoning, but were in place before restrictions prohibiting them. As of press time, the zoning board hearing on the Surf Lodge’s appeal of Mr. Preiato’s determination and a request for the variances and permits had not been scheduled.
In an e-mail this week, Richard Kahn, chairman of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk’s legal committee, who was an observer in court Monday, speculated about the Surf Lodge’s success and its motivations to legitimize the food cart. “The likelihood of obtaining the needed variances is very small,” he said. “For example, with regard to the portable hot dog stand which requires a use variance, the Z.B.A. would have to find that in the absence of the variance, the Surf Lodge cannot realize a reasonable economic return from its property and that such hardship has not been self-created.”
“One can only guess why the Surf Lodge would waste its time, and the time of the Z.B.A. and the planning board, in pursuing variances that they know they will not obtain. My guess is that they are simply seeking further delays in the adjudication of the 687 violations charged against them,” he added.
Mr. Astarita defended the Surf Lodge and its use of the food cart in an e-mail on Tuesday. In the large number of pending violations, he said there are only two violations relating to overcrowding and one fire code violation that was corrected immediately. Mr. Astarita claims that most of the violations were for “the use of a small food truck at Surf Lodge for sandwiches.”
“It is the town’s position that this truck requires a building permit and permission to be operated on the site. The Surf Lodge used the truck at times for selling sandwiches instead of using the hotel’s large kitchen, thereby reducing their environmental impact and energy consumption,” he said. According to Mr. Astarita, the food cart, which is registered with the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, received eight different code violations daily while it was in use over the summer. “The sheer number of violations gives the erroneous impression that the business is violating the law in a flagrant and dangerous manner,” he added.
Mr. Astarita advocated for the Surf Lodge’s clean record when it comes to the environment, and a lack of criminal activity regarding its patrons. “The Surf Lodge has never been accused of any type of environmental violation, pollution, or other unsafe environmental condition at the hotel or restaurant,” he said, adding that the Surf Lodge is responsible for bringing money into the local economy. “They buy at the hardware store, liquor store, markets, and bakeries. They use local contractors, local landscapers, and local painters.”
Additionally, “The Surf Lodge patrons shop in town, rent local houses, use the taxis, and eat in the local restaurants,” he said. “It appears quite unfair that all the positive aspects are pushed aside and all focus is placed on the number of violations pending and not their substance or legal content,” Mr. Astarita added. He referred the Surf Lodge’s attempt to legalize the food cart and said “in all likelihood [it] will be withdrawing that part of the application.”