New Laws for Cabs and Cafes

T.E. McMorrow

The off-season may be quiet, but East Hampton Town officials, well aware that sun-seekers will return with the climbing roses as usual next summer and businesses will be back in full swing to serve them, are putting new teeth in existing laws to better control potential chaos, particularly in Montauk.

Taxicab company owners and individual cab drivers will have to be fingerprinted this year in order to obtain the required town taxicab licenses — a regulation that has been on the books but was not in force because the town had not yet set up a background check system.

Several cab company owners and drivers questioned aspects of the revised law at a town board meeting last week. While not disagreeing with the idea of a background check — he checks the references of his own employees — Mark Ripolone of Ditch Plains Taxi in Montauk said the procedure could make it difficult for him to add staff quickly, once the busy season hits in July. The fingerprinting regulation will not, he added, address problems caused by drivers who sublet cars from companies and who, he said, act aggressively in pursuing fares.

The fingerprinting requirement will be a hardship, both Mr. Ripolone and Ted Kopoulos, a taxicab driver, said.

Juan Munoz, another cab owner, said that fingerprinting could unfairly prevent drivers with previous convictions for drunken driving, but who are now just trying to make a living, from obtaining the needed town license. 

Also looking ahead, the town board last Thursday enacted a pilot program legalizing and governing outdoor dining on downtown Montauk sidewalks.

 A business committee appointed by town officials has worked to develop standards and restrictions, with an eye toward aesthetics and preventing crowding problems. Along with the Montauk Chamber of Commerce, the group proposed a pilot program to allow for outdoor dining, but only in the downtown area, for a limited time, and under certain conditions. A hearing on the draft law was held in June.

Restaurants must apply to the town fire marshal for a license to add tables in the sidewalk right of way, giving a description and sketch of the outdoor dining area, a certificate of insurance and indemnification, and a fee of $30 per seat. Restaurants will be allowed to move up to 20 percent of their approved indoor seating outside, though in no case more than 16 seats. They will not be allowed to have more tables or seats, in total, than they are already permitted under health and other regulations, and the tables may only be placed directly in front of the restaurant. The law requires that a sidewalk area of at least six feet remain clear and unobstructed.

The tables and chairs will have to be set out each day and removed from the sidewalk each evening before midnight. Umbrellas and lighting will be prohibited.

Other restrictions may be added by the fire marshal as deemed necessary. Outdoor dining licenses will be valid from May 1 until the third Monday in October each year.

The outdoor tables may be used for table service only, not for consumption of takeout or other foods not ordered from the restaurant’s menu.

The issue of seats for dining in takeout food shops will be next on the agenda of the business committee, which will examine the situation and offer advice to the town board regarding regulations.