A Tale of Two Montauks

How you are treated apparently depends on who you know — and how deep your pockets are

   Pretty much everyone who follows such things has noticed by now the starkly uneven way East Hampton Town’s building and zoning laws are applied, particularly when it comes to Montauk. How you are treated apparently depends on who you know — and how deep your pockets are. And right now there is probably no sharper contrast than that involving the Beach House hotel-slash-club and the Montauk Brewing Company.
    The beer-makers, three local men who have been friends since their years at East Hampton High School, have asked the town for permission to convert an existing barn behind their tasting room into a proper brewery; up to now, they have made the beer elsewhere. Going through the review process the right way, they have run up against the town’s off-street parking requirement, by which it has been calculated they would have to pay the town a substantial fee, instead of providing spaces for three or so vehicles on their modest lot. With no room for parking, the cost would be a substantial burden on the start-up business. The year-round brewers are considering their options and may ask the town board to allow them to make the payment over time or to change the parking rules.
    On the other side of Montauk’s main drag, the very seasonal Beach House was expanded last winter and spring without the obviously required prerequisite of full planning board review. As a result, the one-time basic motel became something else altogether and now includes a daytime membership pool club, full bar, nightclub with live acts (but not the required music permit), an on-premise space lately occupied by a fashion boutique, and a gift shop — all without a code-mandated planning decision.
    And how many parking spaces did the owners of the high-end hotel and party spot have to ante up for? None. That’s right, not one. Because the Beach House was able to skirt nearly all review, the parking requirements never came up.
    The difference between the way that the Beach House, a well-funded operation, and the brewery, a do-it-yourself undertaking, have been treated demonstrates just how prone to outside influence town government has become. At least two of the town’s Republican leaders — Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Councilman Dominick Stanzione — attended the Beach House’s grand opening, making it clear that the project had their backing even though questions were already swirling about its legality. This was also well after the supervisor pushed for a deal in which the town sold the Beach House a strip of public land that, in effect, made the whole thing possible — and at a price, according to records we have seen, named by the Beach House rather than picked out of the air, as Mr. Wilkinson had claimed. Later, it was only when pressured into doing something about the renovations by some outside government that the town building inspector sent a letter to the hotel’s owners politely asking what their intentions were.
    The Beach House’s representatives appeared in front of the town zoning board of appeals this week on the narrow issues of whether the bar and retail conversion could remain without permits. This is an obvious smokescreen that obscures the key question of how the expensive renovation and plain-as-day change of use from what was a modest, pre-existing, nonconforming motel could have been allowed to happen in the first place without a stringent examination of plans — and their impact on parking in downtown Montauk —  before it broke ground.
    Meanwhile, the Montauk Brewing Company partners continue to pursue their goals by the book, as they have for more than two years, seeking proper approvals for their expansion. Unfortunately they may end up paying dearly for their willingness to follow the letter of the law.
    The least the Beach House owners could do to make amends is offer to carry the brewery’s excellent ales and porters on its illegal bar’s taps. Of course, no dummies, they probably already have.
    The rest of us should demand that Town Hall get its act together and at the very least apply the law in a fair manner.