East Hampton Town officials were on the right track last week when they denied a last-minute request for a permit from the operator of an annual for-profit bicycle ride to Montauk. Unfortunately, with as many as 1,500 participants already having paid up to $300 apiece, officials had little choice but to reach a settlement and allow the ride to go on.
However, the town asked the correct question this time around: Whether big, organized weekend outings with only marginal local benefit should be encouraged. Put another way, the issue was, and is, to what degree should residents have to put up with living in a playground for others.
Most people were only slightly inconvenienced as the Ride to Montauk throngs wound their way east. Still, drivers had to wait on Wainscott Main Street for a turn to get around groups of cyclists, and in some instances, bunched-up bikers swerved into the Montauk Highway traffic lanes. But, unlike last year, there were few calls for emergency assistance.
The intrusions are not limited to roads and bike events, of course. Commercial uses of public spaces are many and include paddleboard outings and kayak rentals at otherwise secluded locations, fitness classes on the sand and in parks, and resorts annexing portions of adjacent beaches for their guests’ exclusive use.
A new town committee has been taking a closer look at permit requests, particularly with an eye toward distinguishing between those that genuinely benefit local organizations and those that make inconsequential charitable donations as a form of cover. One key element of the committee’s work will be to convince officials to resist the temptation to review late permit requests, such as the problematic one from the Ride to Montauk organizers. An encouraging signal can also be found in the recently revised town mass-gathering law, which may soon be used to bring increased scrutiny to crowds at bars and restaurants, particularly outdoors, that are well in excess of those places’ legal maximum occupancy.
We expect to hear “no” a lot more often from Town Hall to requests that might have been swiftly green-lighted in the past. The balance, we hope, may be tipping back toward preserving peace, tranquillity, and less-hectic roads for those who call this place home — and none too soon.