Town Must Go Further To Stop Party Crowds

Summertime problems are complex, but many come from unchecked growth of bars and restaurants

It was perhaps only in passing that East Hampton Town supervisor Larry Cantwell mused last summer about a program by which troublesome nightclubs that draw the transient party crowd could be eliminated. But relatively little has been done about the nightlife issue since a massive public outcry at a July meeting in Montauk. That need not be the end of the discussion; a Southampton Town initiative suggests that local government, if properly motivated, can bring such excesses into line.

Summertime problems are complex, but many come from unchecked growth of bars and restaurants, which draw large numbers of people. The most successful among them are well known: Sloppy Tuna, Surf Lodge, Ruschmeyer’s, Montauk Beach House, Memory Motel, Crow’s Nest, and Cyril’s Fish House. But residents should be concerned about a crop of places that could be troublesome soon, including Gurney’s, Duryea’s, Moby’s, and any of the many other restaurants that could expand to offer outdoor D.J.s, concerts, and other activities. Right now, there really is little in the town code to stop them.

For a long time it was generally thought that only those who unfortunately lived close to one of these establishments were affected. However, when these venues are considered as a whole, the large number of patrons they attract has a huge impact on traffic, litter, and the need for beefed-up police. The costs, directly and indirectly, are high, and the positive role these seasonal businesses have in the East Hampton economy is negligible.

Several offending businesses try to buy favor by contributing to local causes. But as useful as the donations might be to the individual charities, the payola is essentially an admission of guilt and shouldn’t be allowed to paper over real problems or delay tough new approaches.

Southampton figured this out years ago. Its town code lays it out plainly: Nonconforming bars, taverns, and nightclubs were phased out, beginning more than a decade ago. Based on that town’s comprehensive plan, the law took on businesses in residential areas that created traffic, noise, or pollution and diminished neighbors’ quality of life and property values. 

East Hampton Town has been edging toward such a move, but with hesitation. One small step was adopting a law that requires accurate counts of patrons. It banned parking on a portion of Edgemere Street in Montauk near the Surf Lodge. And earlier, it experimented with requiring permits for music in restaurants. None of these were adequate and even together did not add up to even partial success.

Southampton’s law, by contrast, allows for review of nonconforming businesses, taking into account law enforcement records, noise, litter, parking, traffic, and fire and liquor authority violations. Next, the building inspector can issue a notice of termination. Businesses have a choice to either stop the problems or shut down.

In practical terms, it is too late for the East Hampton Town Board to conduct the required study and get similar regulation in place before Memorial Day. It should, however, recognize that broad steps like those in Southampton cannot wait. 

Town government must be of and for resident taxpayers. The days of looking the other way are ending.