It was mostly quality-of-life issues in Montauk that were discussed at a candidates forum hosted by the Concerned Citizens of Montauk on Sunday at the Montauk Firehouse. The current East Hampton Town Board administration was harshly criticized for everything from approving the Shark Attack Sounds party permit for almost 4,000 people at the Montauk Yacht Club over July Fourth weekend to not hiring a coastal engineer to analyze the erosion issue in downtown Montauk.
Larry Cantwell, who is running unopposed for town supervisor, said that the current town board has hastened the hamlet’s degradation. “When you issue a permit for 4,000 people you’re contributing to the problem. We have to establish limits and that hasn’t been done. These things have got to come to an end,” he said, and received several rounds of applause from a sometimes-angry crowd.
Through it all, outgoing East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson sat quietly in the back row with a stern look on his face.
One by one the candidates, who included Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman and his opponent, Chris Nuzzi; Mr. Cantwell; Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione; the town board hopefuls, Job Potter, Fred Overton, and Kathee Burke-Gonzalez; the town justice candidates, Carl Irace and Steven Tekulsky; the incumbent town assessor, Eugene DePasquale, and his opponent Joe Bloecker, both from Montauk; and Diane McNally, who is running for re-election to the town trustees, touted their accomplishments and plans for the future.
Mr. Schneiderman, who has served five terms as a legislator, said he hopes to serve a sixth and final term. Mr. Nuzzi said it was time for new leadership.
Outlining all the places he has been campaigning, Mr. Cantwell said, “I’m not taking this for granted. One of the most important things you can do in a campaign is listen to the people.” He said that the town is facing some very serious issues moving forward, with coastal erosion the most pre-eminent.
He is disappointed that the current administration has not engaged a coastal engineer and said — to a round of applause — that it is something he would have done a while ago. He said it would be a tragic injustice if downtown Montauk is not maintained and worried about the time frame of the Army Corps of Engineers federal funding. “Do we want a beach under construction next summer?” he asked.
He also said that the town should be focusing on erosion on the north side of the hamlet, and added that a conversation about climate change, sea-level rise, and a catastrophic event must be considered. “We should be thinking about mitigation and restoration, and we haven’t done that yet,” he said.
Mr. Stanzione said he has worked on deer management, wastewater management, and taxi legislation. An audience member stood and asked Mr. Stanzione to pledge not to support rezoning a high-priced multiple housing development called 555 in Amagansett, not to agree to support a plan for the Montauk shoreline unless he has the support of the rest of the community, and not to accept Federal Aviation Administration money for the East Hampton Airport along with his “lame duck” administration.
“Those are three great questions and I’m going to answer no. I’m not going to sit on my hands for the next few months. I am a supporter of F.A.A. funding and I am not going to sit on my hands to wreck that project,” he said.
Mr. Stanzione was asked by Jeremy Samuelson, the executive director of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk, if he thinks the Beach House, a new boutique hotel in Montauk, should have required site plan review. “I don’t know,” Mr. Stanzione said.
A woman in the audience asked him why the town board has not taken action on all the alleged illegal club expansions that have recently gone on in the hamlet. She cited the Memory Motel’s outdoor beer garden and a V.I.P. motel room and other issues at Ruschmeyer’s and the Surf Lodge.
Mr. Stanzione said the board was using a tool — pre-existing nonconforming status — in which these types of businesses usually go away. “But it failed; they didn’t go away,” he said.
He announced at the forum that he wants to create a capital fund for restoration of the Ditch Plain beach, which the Army Corps seemed unwilling to include in the major downtown beach restoration project it is planning for the hamlet. If his proposal is approved after being vetted by the full town board and the public, it could be added to next year’s capital budget.
Mr. Potter, who previously served eight years on the town board before stepping down, said that the Beach House should probably have required site plan review but, he said, there are many places that have opened without town review. He spoke of his involvement with the town’s preservation fund during his earlier tenure on the town board, saying that 23 parcels had been saved. He held up charts of the parcels that are now undeveloped, and said there is unspent money in the fund that needs to be spent to preserve them.
Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said that from listening to constituents she is aware of the proliferation of quality of life issues in Montauk. “Montauk has really changed and we have to rectify that and do something about it,” she said. Asked later in the forum if she would agree to a sand-covered stone wall on the beach if the Army Corps recommended one or would let the available funding pass, she said, “I would agree to it. I would not lose out on the funding.”
Mr. Overton said Sunday that he thinks the best solution for shoring up the downtown beaches would be by using movable sand-filled geotextile tubes, and it is a project that should get moving as quickly as possible, he said. He had earlier favored the sand-covered stone approach.
He added that code enforcement in Montauk must be “beefed up” and that town officials must think outside the box to find the funding to do so. “If it requires new legislation then I’m willing to do that,” he said.
Almost all of the candidates agreed that more code enforcement officers must be hired. Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said they should be equipped with investigative skills to work closely with the Police Department. “It needs to be a priority and you have that commitment from us,” she said.