East Hampton Town Councilwoman Theresa Quigley burst into tears Monday night while defending the East Hampton Town Board against accusations that it had ignored code violations in the hamlet, during a meeting of the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee at the Montauk School.
“I think you guys are really unfair, and I’m not running for office so I don’t give a crap,” she said, before walking out of the room.
The tone was set at the beginning of the evening, when Ms. Quigley repeatedly referred to the Surf Lodge as “the Surfside” until members corrected her. She was at the meeting to discuss possible changes to the town’s lighting laws, but the conversation quickly turned to problems at the Surf Lodge and Ruschmeyer’s restaurant.
The businesses have been blamed by the committee for the erosion of Montauk’s quality of life.
Surf Lodge is owned and operated by Edgemere Montauk L.L.C., and Ruschmeyer’s is operated by King and Grove, which leased the property earlier this year. Jayma Cardoso of Manhattan and Montauk was identified in an Aug. 19 New York Times story as the owner of the Surf Lodge.
Richard Kahn, a member of the committee, accused the town board of being a do-nothing board for allowing the establishments to continue to operate after receiving numerous citations, ranging from overcrowded conditions to zoning violations.
“When we had a real town board that took action, Tony Bullock moved in,” said Mr. Kahn. Mr. Bullock, who was East Hampton Town Supervisor in the ’90s, managed to get a nightclub closed after it was repeatedly cited for violating the town code, he said. “There are flagrant violations here and the town is doing nothing,” said Mr. Kahn.
Ms. Quigley produced a calendar that listed 100 violation notices for the Surf Lodge from early July to Aug. 10 of this year. “We can’t do anything except bring them to court, and then it’s up to the judge,” she said. “What happens after that is out of our control.”
Robert McKinley, a manager of both establishments, commented on the issue yesterday by e-mail. “The only reason an establishment should or could get shut down in a case like this is if there are life safety issues and violations, of which there are none on either property,” he wrote.
He said the businesses continue to cooperate with the police, fire department and fire marshal’s offices. Surf Lodge, he said, had received violations for a rolling bar and for a removable awning and the use of a food truck, both of which, he said, are either required or permitted by the Suffolk County Health Department. The food truck, he said, is only open when the kitchen is closed to provide meals for hotel guests and late-night patrons.
Ruschmeyer’s, he claimed, “has only one violation,” for outdoor bleachers set up around a sand pit. Mr. McKinley said the bleachers were “verbally approved” by the town but that the approval was revoked after residents complained.
“We are victims of selective enforcement . . . because we are busy, and successful,” he wrote. “I was always under the impression that a business is supposed to be successful, and when it’s generating revenue and creating jobs within the community it’s a good thing.”
He ended by saying that both businesses “are big contributors”to local charities and held an annual staff beach cleanup, with over 50 participants, at the end of August. “Yet we continue to get bad press and threats to shut us down. It’s simply not fair,” he said.
Committee members on Monday called for an injunction to close the nightspots down. Ms. Quigley said she had spoken to the town attorney’s office and was told that an injunction could not be sought. “They said forget about it, it will never happen,” she said.
When she was interrupted several times, Ms. Quigley said she wouldn’t mind leaving the meeting. “I’m happy to leave when I hear that we’re a do-nothing board; we’re very busy,” she said, adding, “I would proffer that we are not doing nothing. I would proffer that we are doing something.”
Lisa Grenci, the committee’s chairwoman, told the councilwoman that people were reacting in frustration. “What you’re seeing here is the catalyst,” she said, noting that the Surf Lodge had been operating despite violations for three years. If the town board didn’t move for an injunction, she said, maybe the committee would take it into their own hands.
“Are you proposing vigilantism?” asked Ms. Quigley.
“No, but we might hire our own attorney,” said Ms. Grenci.
Members were incredulous that the Surf Lodge had received 60 violations last summer and paid the fines without correcting the issues. John Chimples, a committee member, asked Ms. Quigley about the results of those 60 violations and Ms. Quigley said she didn’t have any information about it.
“Why not?” he asked. “This is a huge issue for Montauk. If you were living next door to one of these places something would be done.”
Some mentioned raising the fines and citing the businesses daily until the violations were remedied. Another member suggested that the committee contact the State Liquor Authority to see if the establishments’ liquor licenses could be pulled. Others said the town attorney should not be allowed to plea-bargain with the defendants.
At that point Jay Fruin, a committee member, turned to Ms. Quigley, who was sitting next to him, and pleaded with her in a soft voice. “Theresa, Surf Lodge is dangerous. Montauk has turned into a circus. Our quality of life has drastically been downgraded. Let’s get on the same page and see what we can do,” he said.
Ms. Quigley told the committee that she gets it. “I get what’s happening to the community,” she said, raising her voice and choking back tears. She noted that she’s 57 years old and has lived here and raised her children here. “I could easily jump on your emotional bandwagon. You say I don’t care? I’m up until midnight or sometimes 2 o’clock in the morning thinking about all this. I’m trying my damnedest, guys. The ‘do-nothing board’ is insulting to me. But I’m passionate about doing it the right way. It’s horrible to sit here and take all this crap. I’m not willing to sit here,” she said, leaving the lighting plans on a table and walking out.
Julia Prince, the committee’s town board liaison, explained that an injunction can be obtained only if there are health and safety issues. Most of the violations for the Surf Lodge concern zoning issues, which she could not discuss further as they are currently before a court, she said.