If buck-passing were an Olympic sport, East Hampton Town would get the gold. That, at least, is the consensus of an increasing number of Montauk residents and others irked by the wild popularity of several restaurants and watering holes and all that comes along with them.
East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson has been criticized for telling neighbors of one particularly troubled area that they should ignore the noise and traffic because the peak summer season is nearly over. Councilwoman Theresa Quigley has chimed in that she likes seeing young, cash-spending folks around. Moreover, the pair insist there is nothing much that the town itself can do to reduce annoyances. Others tell beleaguered residents to shut their windows and turn on the air-conditioners — if they have them — to drown out the noise. But this welcome-wagon attitude is in stark contrast to that of East Hampton Village, where officials managed to shut down a party palace on a residential street before it even held its first event.
Gilt City, an online discount-deal marketplace, had hoped to run a series of dinners, yoga classes, and film screenings at a house it rented on Fithian Lane. Learning of the company’s plans, the village convened an emergency meeting at which its board of trustees decided to seek a court injunction. That’s all it took for the Gilt City people to decamp for an alternative location in Southampton Town. The village didn’t even have to have its day in court.
In East Hampton Town, by contrast, pre-existing businesses in residential zones, such a restaurants, hotels, and inns, have been allowed to expand illegally. While this is well known, Town Hall has turned a deliberately blind eye, refusing again and again to enforce many laws on its own books — many having to do with capacity, lighting, and, of course, parking. Now that the success of these sketchy operations has spawned traffic, noise, garbage, and other problems for neighbors — and town police — the town board has made tepid excuses and further averted its gaze.
Unfortunately for those who live near these mostly seasonal businesses, these and other quality-of-life issues have become politicized. Democrats have been speaking out in an effort to damage the supervisor, a Republican who is seeking re-election in November. This could have the effect of delaying any meaningful relief, as the supervisor and Ms. Quigley might well be loath to do anything that could be (wrongly, in our view) perceived as giving in to the other side.
As the village’s swift reaction in Gilt City and similar matters show, there is plenty that can be done to rein in improper commercialization or expansion of businesses on residential properties, as well as nuisances involving noise and cars. Unlike Gilt City, a restaurant or nightclub may have pre-standing legal rights to be where it is, but the town could use temporary, police-emergency parking restrictions to limit overflow crowds — as has been done in the village — and change local laws so that fines for violations have real and substantial impact. The town board needs to ignore political posturing and do the right thing for the residents of these plagued neighborhoods.
Get tough, East Hampton; it’s about time. As the supervisor himself said, there are only so many weekends of summer left — and taxpayers should be able to enjoy every minute of them, no matter where their houses happen to be.