Eastward Ho! Shark Partiers to Park In Amagansett

Star Island party for 3,900 gets the go-ahead

    Shark Attack Sounds, a party for 3,900 beginning tomorrow night at the Montauk Yacht Club and slated to continue into the wee hours of Saturday, will go on, thanks to a last-minute approval by the East Hampton Town Board. The board’s Republican majority agreed yesterday morning with a hastily compiled plan to have partygoers park at a field on Montauk Highway in Amagansett, formerly the Principi farm, rather than at a Montauk field.

     Seventeen buses, each with a 52-passenger capacity (and four extra, if necessary), will shuttle back and forth between Amagansett and the yacht club.

    Town police traffic control officers will have to be posted from 4:30 or 5 p.m. tomorrow until 3 a.m. Saturday, East Hampton Town Police Lt. Chris Hatch told the town board at yesterday’s special meeting, at a cost of about $4,000.

    Although the town’s policy is to charge event organizers for the costs to taxpayers of such services, the town will not be able to recoup the money in this case, Lieutenant Hatch told the board, under State Liquor Authority rules. Among the event organizers — who include the promoter Ben Watts, who has hosted the event at Rick’s Crabby Cowboy Cafe in Montauk for the last several years — is the yacht club, which holds a state liquor license. Municipalities are not permitted to charge license holders for the cost of municipal services, Lieutenant Hatch reported after consulting with the state authority.
    The cost of the police services, said Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, who offered the resolution to issue the party permit, must be weighed against “the economic benefit to the town.”

    Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc and Councilwoman Sylvia Overby voted against issuing a permit for the event, as they had on June 20, when the majority approved an initial Shark Attack plan calling for parking 800 cars on the pastureland at Rita’s Stables in Montauk. Rita Foster, the stable owner, withdrew from her agreement with the party promoters earlier this week.

    Mr. Van Scoyoc said his opposition was “due to the scale and commercial nature of the event on July Fourth weekend.” Ms. Overby said the new parking plan had not “improved the nature of the event.” Now, she said, it will involve Amagansett as well as Montauk, and will more likely affect the side streets around the yacht club as ticketholders seek parking spots. Both noted the increased population and traffic expected over the long holiday weekend. Mr. Van Scoyoc said that “though there are some who will benefit . . . the detriment will be on the community at large.”

    Organizers expect only “a certain percentage” of the ticketholders, who will be informed of the location of the parking lot by e-mail or text message, to stop in Amagansett, admitting that “human nature” would drive some to bypass the shuttle bus and head straight to Montauk. Shuttle buses will also pick up partygoers throughout Montauk.

    Only a limited amount of V.I.P. parking will be allowed on Star Island, near the yacht club. Lieutenant Hatch said others will not be allowed onto Star Island Drive, but will be turned away there and sent back to the parking lot in Amagansett. Whether they will make that drive or search for places to park in Montauk is a question.    

    “It’s going to result in people trying to park in neighborhoods in the area, people trying to park in other businesses in the area,” the lieutenant said. “The danger goes up after dark, particularly in the 2 a.m. range. We have to be concerned about the safety of the residents in the area.”

    Last year’s Shark Attack party at Rick’s, on East Lake Drive, was shut down early when some 2,500 participants, well more than the 800 specified in the permit, clogged the road, preventing access by emergency vehicles.

    Councilwoman Theresa Quigley pressed Lloyd Van Horn, a Montauk Yacht Club manager who attended yesterday’s “emergency” town board meeting, to find a way to require that those with tickets coming to the party from the west, stop and park in Amagansett. She suggested distributing a final ticket, only at that site, allowing entrance to the event, and said at first that she would not support the revised plan, and the new permit, without that element in place.

    After several minutes spent investigating that possibility, Mr. Van Horn, through Lawrence Kelley, his attorney, reported that “technologically, it’s not feasible.”

    However, he said, they would explore “options that would incentivize them,” such as “prizes at the Montauk site if you stop at the Amagansett site . . . to raise those percentages up.” Ms. Quigley seconded Mr. Wilkinson’s motion to issue the permit, and Councilman Dominick Stanzione placed the third ‘yes’ vote to override the minority.

    “My concern is that Friday, coming out from the west, traffic will back up for miles and miles and there will be gridlock,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said.

    Before the original 3-to-2 vote on June 20 to issue the first party permit, no board member mentioned that in 2004, the town had paid over $2 million from its community preservation fund to purchase the development rights on Ms. Foster’s 17 acres. That agreement, according to John Jilnicki, the town attorney, and Scott Wilson, the town’s director of land acquisition and management, limits activities on the land to those that are agriculture-related.

    “Everything else is precluded,” Mr. Wilson said Tuesday. “Every time we buy development rights we basically exclude any commercial activities outside of agriculture. There is no provision to allow for special events.”

    Mr. Jilnicki said Tuesday that he and Mr. Wilson had reviewed the legal documents pertaining to the development rights purchase at the end of last week and provided information to the town board.

    Interviewed by phone on Tuesday, Ms. Foster said she had raised the question of the development rights purchase and had been assured by Mr. Van Horn that it would be addressed when the permit application was made. Ms. Foster said he had indicated that town officials were aware of the land’s status, and had nonetheless voted to approve the permit.

    Mr. Van Horn did not return a call for comment this week. But, said Mr. Wilkinson during the meeting yesterday, at the time of the vote “the board wasn’t even aware that we had a development rights issue.”

    Had the town allowed the party parking on the protected farmland, the matter would have fallen under the jurisdiction of a regional committee that oversees the East End towns’ compliance with rules governing the Peconic Bay Region Community Preservation Fund, according to State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., an author of the legislation creating that fund.

    Ms. Foster said she had understood that valets would be parking cars in selected areas of her pasture. She became concerned, she said, when she learned there would be parking attendants, but not valets. “They would have destroyed my property,” she said Tuesday. “My pasture that I spent 30 years on.” With partygoers free to enter and exit the property without escort, she said she feared the liability that might ensue from falls on uneven ground and the like.

    In remarks opening yesterday’s special town board meeting, scheduled the day before, Mr. Wilkinson said a board review of the original party permit was necessary because of Ms. Foster’s change of mind.

    “Do we know why Rita’s Stables is no longer being used?” Ms. Overby asked. “Would it be because it’s C.P.F. purchase property?”

    “We didn’t make that determination — this board didn’t,” Mr. Wilkinson said. That fact, Ms. Quigley said, and that it had not arisen during a review of the party permit application by various town departments, was “the elephant in the room.” But, she said, it pointed to a failure by staffers, and not to a fault of the board. “It isn’t the board’s responsibility to discover that,” she said.

    Mr. Jilnicki said early this week that procedures for vetting mass gathering permit applications were being revised to make sure that any protected status of a proposed event location would be determined.

    “What we have is a well-planned party,” Mr. Kelley told the board of the July 4 weekend throwdown. Quoting John Adams, he said that the patriot had expressed hope that “every American would have the opportunity to celebrate the commemorative date of the signing of the Declaration of Independence for years to come.”

    The Amagansett site has been used successfully for several years for the Soldier Ride “Rock the Farm” event, he said.

    According to Mr. Kelly, the party organizers will make a donation to the Amagansett Fire Department in lieu of paying Ms. Foster for the use of her land. “The only problem is that it’s going to be the Montauk Fire Department that’s standing by,” Mr. Wilkinson said.

    Though initial documents had indicated that Shark Attack, an event widely touted by the metropolitan media as a “Hamptons” summer event not to miss, would serve as a fund-raiser for the Montauk Playhouse, Mr. Wilkinson said before the first vote on the permit that he was unsure how that reference got in, and Playhouse representatives were unaware of the event.  No mention was made at yesterday’s meeting of a donation to the Playhouse.

    But the partygoers, Mr. Kelley said yesterday, “are 3,900 with national and international connections,” who will “bring Montauk into their sphere of understanding.” The Montauk Yacht Club, he said, believes “that Montauk generally and the Montauk Yacht Club specifically benefits from the event.”

    As an “outreach” effort, Mr. Kelley said, members of the Coast Guard posted at the Montauk station at the end of Star Island near the yacht club have been invited to attend the party.

    “My question this morning,” he said to the board later in the meeting, “is how many Portuguese man-of-war land on the beaches of Montauk and devastate the economy, while you have the opportunity to make money for Montauk.”