Town Is Skeptical of Resort Amenities

Hero Beach says snacks for guests a necessity
The owners of the new Hero Beach Club motel in Montauk recently added daybeds and other features to an outdoor lounge on the property. A new town law will make it impossible for guests to order food and drinks. Jackie Pape

While business owners face the onset of summer with plans to maximize their earnings in the busy season, the East Hampton Town Board has been seeking to head off some of the traditional summer headaches — community disruption caused by busy commercial establishments — as well as to ease up on some restrictions to businesses.

Two laws adopted last Thursday revise the rules for restaurants and for retail takeout food shops, giving restaurants the ability to seek permission to accommodate more outdoor diners and legalizing seating in food shops, many of which have long had spots for people to sit and nosh, in violation of the town code. 

The code change that legalizes seating for up to 16 in takeout food shops also contains a provision that prohibits those shops in a resort zone.

That provision was opposed by Tiffany Scarlato, an attorney for the new owners of the former Oceanside Motel in Montauk, now called Hero Beach Club. She argued at a recent town board meeting that resort guests expect certain amenities, among them the ability to purchase a snack or a sandwich.

But town board members are leery of making it legal to add new things to Montauk’s traditional motels that would draw outside customers, making the motels destinations for more than just their guests.

Montauk’s recent popularity boom spurred the transformation of a number of formerly low-key motels, and problems caused by crowds drawn to trendy spots have been central to community complaints and discussions.

Two years ago the town board voted to prevent motels from adding a new restaurant or bar, unless the planning board issues a special permit. At that time, the board did not take retail food stores at motels into consideration.

Plans for renovations at Hero Beach Club show a retail area with the allowable 16 seats. It is surrounded by an extensive outdoor deck and sizable adjacent areas labeled “lobby” and “multi-purpose room.” In a basement level below, there is a large room with a “dishwashing station” depicted, and other facilities.

“A motel can provide some services to its clientele; we understand that,” Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said at a board meeting last week, but many seem to be looking to add more than what is allowed. He said he had examined the Hero Beach Club’s plans and seen “what looked to me like a restaurant and a bar, with a proposed music permit application, with a liquor authority license application, in a motel. Honestly, it looked to me like it was masquerading as a retail food store,” he said.

“I don’t want to go backwards . . . on the issues that we’ve been trying to deal with,” said Mr. Cantwell, mentioning crowds, noise, parking problems, and overloaded wastewater systems. If there is a loophole, he said, “people are going to drive a tractor trailer through it.”

While Mr. Cantwell said he supported adopting the proposed law barring retail takeout food stores at resorts, he said the board could revisit that provision, perhaps allowing motels to add food takeout shops by special permit.

That might be a way for hotels to provide a service to their guests, said Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, without allowing a situation with “hundreds of people coming to . . . a takeout store that’s really a bar with entertainment.”

“We heard loud and clear several years ago from the community about the direction they want Montauk to go,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc. In the summer of 2015, after one raucous holiday weekend in the hamlet, hundreds of residents descended on a town board meeting to demand that officials do something to rein things in.

Laraine Creegan of the Montauk Chamber of Commerce supported the idea of a special permit for food stores at resorts, which would allow the Planning Department and planning board to scrutinize plans and set criteria.

Montauk, she said, has sustained its popularity for a reason. “It’s not East Hampton,” she said. “It’s very eclectic, and that’s why everyone loves Montauk.”

Also last Thursday, a law clarifying the regulations that allow restaurants to place dining tables and chairs outdoors, and potentially expanding the allowable number of patio seats, was adopted without language that had caused a ruckus among restaurateurs, who showed up at  a Town Hall hearing to protest.

The provision would have effectively made it illegal to do anything other than sit down and dine outdoors, stopping restaurants from offering an outdoor waiting area, bar service, or the ability of patrons to listen to outdoor music without dining. It was designed, town officials said, to confine outdoor activities at restaurants to dining, reining in restaurants that have expanded their offerings.

“Some of the zoning code of the town has not been enforced for many years ­. . .­ certainly not in any firm way,” said Mr. Cantwell at a June 13 meeting in Montauk. “I think the lack of enforcement has resulted in confusion.”

The revised outdoor dining law is needed, he said, because without a clear law, there is “chaos.” In addition, while restaurants have already been allowed to move up to 30 percent of their seating outdoors, the new law, he pointed out, “opens up an opportunity for the first time for businesses to go beyond 30 percent.” Planning board approval will be needed. The law also calls for restaurants to file a seating plan with the town.

Business owners had complained about having new requirements imposed just at the start of the summer season. “I understand that and I have some sympathy about that,” Mr. Cantwell said last week. “My feeling is that this law should be adopted. Having said that . . . we’re in a transition period, and I think we should walk carefully and slowly with respect to its enforcement.”

“As inspections take place our staff can advise owners and work with owners so that everyone can come into compliance over some period of time.”

Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez said she, too, was sensitive to the timing of a law change and its impact on those in the hospitality business who make a majority of their earnings in the summer. “But I have confidence in our code enforcers and our fire marshals, that they’re not going to come down with a sledgehammer,” she said. Councilman Fred Overton agreed.

“I’m grateful to this town board for looking at all the things that need to be looked at in consideration of this,” Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said. She ticked off the various items on that day’s meeting agenda, which included water quality efforts and a free public Montauk shuttle bus along with the town code changes. “We’re trying to make sure that this place is a place that you come back to again and again,” she said.