Some Montauk business owners are undoubtedly pleased that when it comes to their interests East Hampton Town’s zoning rules need not apply. Such was the message two weeks ago when Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson cut a ceremonial ribbon amid an atmosphere of bonhomie at the grand opening of the Montauk Beach House.
The former Ronjo motel was at the center of controversy earlier this year when the town decided to sell a portion of a long-unused alley that bisected the property to its new owners. That fight died down when the Suffolk district attorney chimed in with a strong, but flawed, reading of the zoning code. This was enough, it appears, to give the Beach House cover to proceed with a number of additions to the property that should have first been run by the town planning board. In keeping with other instances of disregard for the law under the current and previous Town Hall administrations, the necessary review did not occur.
The outlook for reasonable implementation of the town’s zoning laws is poor today; any town staffer who dared to suggest that tacking on a membership pool club, independent clothing boutique, nightclub, bar, kitchen, and an opening-night performance by a rock band for 200 guests might have to be examined by the planning board would have had good reason to fear for his or her job. All of the Beach House work, mind you, is on land not zoned for hotels or resorts, but for shops and the like.
But this story is not about one hotel. Certain requirements of the town code are being routinely ignored on projects large and small, particularly when the properties are owned by those friendly with the supervisor and his political backers — and, most recently, when they are in Montauk. In a sweep some weeks ago, for example, code enforcers ticketed several businesses in the vicinity of Town Hall for illegally illuminated signs, but they have so far patently ignored similar ones in Montauk and elsewhere.
Several popular nightspots in the easternmost hamlet have been allowed to spill out into huge, traffic-snarling outdoor gatherings. And on Friday, enforcers had to shut down a massive dance party on East Lake Drive for which the town board had issued a permit for 800 guests despite the promoters’ oft-repeated boast that 2,500 people had attended the same event last year. That property, Rick’s Crabby Cowboy on Lake Montauk, was at the center of an earlier dustup over dredging that drew a $75,000 fine from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for work that Supervisor Wilkinson had insisted was on the up-and-up.
Montauk may be different from the rest of the Town of East Hampton, but the same laws apply. Perhaps the time has come to reconsider the hamlet’s incorporation as a village with its own set of rules and regulations and to let the ensuing battle between the forces of preservation and what some call progress begin.