Montauk residents, including a group of senior citizens from the Montauk AARP, are preparing for a battle against people who drive east to go clubbing and then leave a mess in their wake. The usually quiet senior citizens are ready to don their armor and will start attending all East Hampton Town meetings to add their say, Terri Coppola, their representative, said.
Many residents weren’t prepared for the success of the businesses that have opened in Montauk in the last few years, including Solé East, the Surf Lodge, Navy Beach, and Ruschmeyer’s. Neither were they prepared for the problems that arrived with those businesses, such as overcrowding, overflow parking, loud music, trash left behind, gridlocked roads, and public urination.
At two meetings this week — the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee’s on Monday, which was held outdoors at the Montauk School, and the town board’s in Montauk on Tuesday — residents spoke up loud and clear, and they are angry.
Kimberly Esperian appeared at both. She said that from her house on Second House Road she was ambushed by music from the Surf Lodge, Solé East, and Ruschmeyer’s all at the same time last week. “I felt so helpless I was crying,” she said.
By phone afterward she said the glasses in her cupboards were vibrating from the music. She called the police. “It was horrifying. If you could hear my phone call to the police, I sounded like I was getting murdered I was so distressed,” she said, adding that she is a baker at Gurney’s Inn who sometimes has to rise at 4 a.m.
The police arrived and used a noise meter to measure the sound. She was told it registered under the legal limit, and it was allowed to continue. Ms. Esperian said she called one club owner to complain about the music and was told to put on the air-conditioning in her house to muffle the noise.
Most of the complaints involved cars that speed down Second House Road and pass a playground at the Montauk School, said Lola Snow, Ms. Esperian’s mother, who also lives on Second House Road. She said that although school is closed, the playground is usually packed, especially during the early evening hours when the restaurants are busy.
She said drivers leaving the Surf Lodge have been taking the alternate route down Industrial Road through Second House Road and out of the hamlet to avoid police posted in the downtown area. The illegally parked cars at and traffic from Ruschmeyer’s, which is being leased by the same people who own the Surf Lodge, are also creating a traffic hazard, she said.
“No one’s doing anything, but if one of our kids gets hurt or hit by a car, something will then happen,” Ms. Snow said.
Speeding cars are a major problem over at the Navy Beach restaurant, which has been having parking difficulties since it opened last year. The restaurant is owned by and sits next to the Port Royal Co-op, which houses 58 homeowners, some of whom have said they have been forced to leave their bedrooms to sleep in their living rooms to escape the noise coming from Navy Beach. Condo owners said they are fed up with the restaurant, which has a 10-year lease with two more 5-year options. Residents claim that patrons, male and female, urinate on the beach near the fence that separates the two properties.
Jim Kelly, the president of the Port Royal’s board of directors, said on Tuesday that the situation has gotten out of control. “It’s not only a quality of life issue for us, but for all the residents of Navy Road,” he said, adding that the popular response to the business has exceeded what the property can handle. “Those neighbors have also been complaining to protect their interests,” he said of others on Navy Road.
One condo owner who did not wish to be named said he has tried hard to work with the restaurant’s management but has been ignored. “This used to be our sanctuary, and it’s turned into a living nightmare.”
None of the co-op owners wanted to be quoted speaking about it, but there is a lawsuit pending against the Port Royal filed by the restaurant owners, who claim the co-op has improperly roped off parking areas that the restaurant believes it is entitled to use. The condo owners said they’ve roped off those sections to accommodate their own guests, and that the lease stipulates that restaurant customers can park only in the area surrounding the restaurant.
Chris Carson and Tonia Ries, a married couple who live in one of the smaller beachfront cottages on Navy Road, attended the citizens advisory committee meeting Monday. Mr. Carson said the town’s recent banning of parking on Navy Road’s north side “doesn’t really solve the underlying issue, unlimited patrons, or enforcement issues.” He said the valet drivers hired by Navy Beach have lead feet, which leads to even more problems.
Ms. Ries said the restaurants are serving too many people without adequate restroom facilities. She complained that Navy Road is so narrow it’s like a one-way road, and that she often has problems backing out of her own driveway, which is something Mr. Kelly also spoke of. He said if drivers miss the one turn to leave the area, they often reverse their vehicles and back into residents’ driveways to turn around.
Ms. Ries said speeding drivers had killed a neighborhood dog and a cat that lived on Navy Road. “Montauk is a destination. Good for them that they have been so successful, but we as a town have to be more creative to get people to leave their cars somewhere and take buses or ride bikes,” she said.
Jay Fruin, a member of the citizens advisory committee, told the group that Montauk this summer is filled beyond capacity. He said no more parking spaces should be added to accommodate more drivers.
Richard Kahn, another committee member, wondered what the Suffolk County Health Department is doing about the overcrowded restaurants. Speaking of the Surf Lodge, which has received several violations, he asked, “Why does the county health commissioner keep issuing permits if they’re constantly violating it?”
At the meetings residents were encouraged to keep calling code enforcement officers and the police to voice their complaints. Ms. Ries called it shocking to find that unless calls are persistently made to code enforcement, nothing gets done. “I live here, and if I don’t make noise I don’t get results. I have a job and I’m busy. I don’t have time to do their job,” she said.
Patrick J. Gunn, the assistant town attorney and administrator of the town’s public safety division, said on Tuesday that Montauk is busier than it has ever been. “I wish I had a hundred officers, but I don’t,” he said. He is now investigating a number of complaints, including some at Navy Beach, where he conducted a full inspection two weeks ago. He could not comment on his review, as possible charges are pending, he said.
Mr. Gunn said the picnic tables that Navy Beach serves food from on the beach amount to a change of use and a violation of the town code, so a new site plan review is required if they are to stay. His office has been inundated with calls, and though people are complaining about code enforcement, the office is on it, he said.
“People may not know this, but we have so many open investigations right now,” he said. “We’re investigating everything. We are very busy. With the resources we have to work with, I think we’re putting up a good fight.”
Others wondered why commercial properties don’t have to adhere to mass-gathering requirements. Anne Maegli, who lives next door to Ruschmeyer’s, said at a previous town board meeting, “If I had a thousand people on my lawn, believe me the cops would be there and I would be shut down.”
Over the Fourth of July weekend, the music and crowds at Ruschmeyer’s were terrible and her driveway was totally blocked with parked cars, Ms. Maegli said. On Saturday it got so loud she walked over to complain, but the music had stopped by the time she arrived. Town officials had shut it down, she learned. On one night she estimated that about 1,000 people were milling around outside the formerly quiet, home-style restaurant. “You can’t have hundreds of people spilling into the street like that,” she said.
Quite a few people disputed the logic that these businesses are helping the economy and spreading money around the rest of the hamlet, as politicians and other business owners have claimed. Several pointed out that many patrons of the clubs are coming out to party from other areas and leaving immediately afterward.
East Hampton Town Police Chief Edward V. Ecker Jr. said that when he has visited the establishments, he hasn’t seen anyone he knows from Montauk. “They all come out on these party buses from areas like Quogue and Hampton Bays,” he said.
“They’re not coming out here to buy a T-shirt or a piece of crispy chicken,” Ms. Esperian said. “They’re coming out to party and then they leave.”
Shelby Meade of Fresh and Clean Media, who represents both Ruschmeyer’s and the Surf Lodge, did not return calls by press time. WordHampton, which represents Navy Beach, also did not return calls. Dave Ceva of Sole East was unavailable for comment.
At the town board meeting on Tuesday in Montauk, Supervisor Bill Wilkinson thanked everyone for their comments and agreed with Councilwoman Julia Prince that there might be a loophole regarding patrons hanging around outside the establishments that could be used to address the overcrowding. He also said he has asked Chief Ecker for help.
“But it’s something that the town is living through because it’s become the place for a young demographic to come out and spend more time,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “So I thank you for going through it and being patient with it. The board has been spending considerable time in Montauk, including issuing a request for proposal from vendors, adding parking spaces to downtown Montauk, and having a new flagpole put up. A little more patience and we’ll be out of the summer.”
With Reporting by Joanne Pilgrim