It may be a minor matter in the scheme of things, but the continued apparent refusal of the East Hampton Town Ordinance Enforcement Department — and by extension, the town board — to address even simple code violations sends a message, intentionally or not, that as long as what you do is in the interest of making money, the powers-that-be will look the other way.
All in all, at the beginning of the 2014 high season this appears little better than it was in the party-a-go-go Wilkinson years. From the least consequential to the most important, the way regulations are applied was supposed to shift with new leadership in Town Hall. However, if changes are under way, they are coming too slowly. What is puzzling and disappointing is that even the most obvious violations are ignored.
Take the town’s sign law, for example. Illegal, street-side “sandwich boards” have proliferated, as have internally illuminated “open” signs and the like. Even prohibited off-premises commercial come-ons, like one for a business co-owned by a member of the town planning board, are allowed to remain day after day in plain view.
As Julia Prince, a former town councilwoman and, before that, a code enforcement officer, once told us, this kind of violation is the easiest to deal with. Most of the time, business operators are unaware of the rules, and a simple phone call is all it takes to correct the problem. Why this isn’t done is really not known; the answers our reporters have received have been less than illuminating. Maybe it comes down to inadequate staffing on the town’s part — or maybe it is just a lack of will. No one has ever been able to figure it out. On the other hand, if a new consensus is emerging about what should be permitted, regulations should be changed.
On bigger matters, the town’s record of late also has been a disappointment. We wonder how, for example, the Memory Motel in Montauk was able to fence off a portion of its parking lot, add tables, and put in an outdoor bar complete with lights and beer taps. And, elsewhere in Montauk, why does anyone have to put up with thundering live bands or D.J.s at all hours at, among other places, the Sloppy Tuna, Solé East, and the Montauk Beach House? In whose interests are town officials who allow such things really working? Not residents', by the looks of it.
What about the improper conversion of residences to businesses? And are the mountains of trash at beach garbage cans at the end of the day something we should just accept? Sure, overcrowded houses and excessive rental turnover might be more difficult to handle, but they, too, could be better reined in.
Officials should not need to be reminded that their first duty is to protect the interests of ordinary taxpayers and citizens; everything else should be relegated to the back of the line. Problems with code enforcement are not new, but a little more push on the most visible transgressions would send a long overdue signal that Town Hall is finally getting serious.