Unintended Effects Of Popularity

Massive and continual traffic headaches support the casual observation that far more people were here between June and Labor Day than ever before

As the summer high season rapidly draws to a close, East Hampton officials and leaders of the various environmental and business organizations here should take a look around and ask if a new, overarching plan is warranted to manage our town’s exploding popularity as a destination for short-term tourism and visitors.

Judging from the stunning number of rentals (mostly illegal) on online listing sites such as Airbnb and HomeAway and the fact that many houses were booked solid this summer, East Hampton’s guest-accommodation capacity has swelled almost overnight. Massive and continual traffic headaches support the casual observation that far more people were here between June and Labor Day than ever before. Restaurants were full every night of the week, grocery lines were a fact of life at all hours except the very early morning or late at night, and the beaches were crowded.

Downtown Montauk fairly boiled over with pedestrians this year when the sun did not shine, and the thunder from its clubs and gin mills could be heard for miles pretty much every night. Police struggled to meet the demand for increased patrols. Daytime beer parties and evening bonfires left the ocean beaches in appalling condition in Montauk and in other parts of town. All in all, summer 2014 appears to have been one in which the old, peaceful order hung on by just a thread.

The East Hampton Town Comprehensive Plan, last updated in 2005, is undoubtedly due for an overhaul anyway, but the escalating draw of people who do not own houses here or rent for a season, or even a summer month, suggests that the more urgent need is for effective controls that balance the desires and needs of tourists and visitors with those of residents.

We believe that East Hampton Town has reached a saturation point beyond which irreparable harm to the place we know and love will be inevitable. Community leaders, both from private groups and among elected officials, must make a priority of preparing for the seasons to come and the ever-greater demands the Hamptons’ notoriety has wrought.