Hotelier vs. Town Code at Montauk's Crow's Nest

The owner of the Crow's Nest Inn hopes to use a parking lot at his nearby guest cottages for overflow restaurant parking. The catch is that it is prohibited by East Hampton Town law. T.E. McMorrow

Sean MacPherson, a well-known impresario of metropolitan hotels and restaurants who brought his high-end empire to Montauk in 2010 when he opened the Crow’s Nest Inn and Restaurant, has been told he needs permission for his newest project in the hamlet after running afoul of the East Hampton Town Building Department.

According to town officials, Mr. MacPherson had begun interior and exterior renovations of a defunct motel, which he added to his Montauk holdings last year, without obtaining a building permit, prompting Tom Prieato, the town’s chief building inspector, to issue a stop-work order. To resume work, he needs site plan approval from the town planning board, which discussed the matter on April 23. It became clear that  site plan approval would not be routine.

The 66,333-square-foot rectangular parcel, like the Crow’s Nest a few lots to the west, is on the southern shore of Lake Montauk. In a memo to the planning board from JoAnne Pahwul, assistant director of the East Hampton Town Planning Department, Mr. MacPherson’s new property, which is adjacent to South Lake Drive, a town right of way to the beach, was developed in the 1950s as the Montauk Motor Court. In 1986, when the business received its last certificate of occupancy, it was described as containing four one-story buildings with two units each, plus an office and a one-story residence. Mr. MacPherson also owns a house in Ditch Plain, a short walk away.

According to Mr. Preiato, 7,150 square feet of what was previously open lawn there has been converted to a gravel-covered parking lot, capable of holding 24 cars. The property has another parking lot, which can accommodate 12 cars.

“Right now, parking is a problem on the Crow’s Nest property,” Britton Bistrian, Mr. MacPherson’s representative, told the planning board on April 23. She said parking for the popular Crow’s Nest “on Montauk Highway causes a safety issue. This owner is motivated and wants to address the safety issue and not just turn a blind eye.”

Also raising warning flags were several board members who expressed concern about whether allowing a separate lot to absorb overflow parking from the Crow’s Nest would legal.

 Job Potter, a member of the board, who pointed out the proximity of the parcel to a town lot that contains wetlands, addressing another issue, asking John Jilnicki, the board’s attorney, whether Mr. MacPherson would also need a natural resources permit from the town zoning board of appeals. Mr. Jilnicki gave an affirmative response.

“Helping overflow parking would be good, but moving that problem to another property is troubling,” Mr. Potter said.

Yesterday, Mr. Jilnicki brought up another sticking point, pointing out that a new parking lot appeared to be an expansion of the business use on the property, which is prohibited by the town code because it is in zoned residential use.

“Commercial parking for a business off-premises would likely be construed as an expansion of use by the building inspector,” he said yesterday, although he added that Mr. Preiato has not yet ruled on the issue.

It appears from the Crow’s Nest website that both properties are to be run as one business. “We are pleased to announce the new addition of the David Pharaoh Cottages adjacent to the Crow’s Nest on South Lake Drive. The cottages are available for rent on a weekly basis, and come complete with all the amenities of the Crow’s Nest,” the site reads. The cottages are named for a chief of the Montauketts.

Rentals for the David Pharaoh units are priced between $1,200 and $1,700 for a week in early June.