The East Hampton Town Planning Board held its final meeting of the year on Dec. 19, giving several applicants suggestions that could be New Year’s resolutions for their various site plans.
For the Montauk restaurant East by Northeast, the board’s advice boils down to one word — Shh!
The owners of the South Edgemere Street restaurant, which is about a quarter-mile from the Surf Lodge, want to move 48 of its 180 seats, all of them indoors, to an outside patio, and to improve the parking. Both establishments are on Fort Pond, both have parking issues in the busy season, and both pre-date the town’s zoning code, which allows them to operate in a neighborhood zoned for residential use. Also, because of that last condition, neither is allowed to expand.
But, as several board members pointed out, there is one key difference. Surf Lodge always was and still is a nightclub; East by Northeast is strictly a restaurant. As a nightclub, Surf Lodge can play outdoor music much later than East by Northeast, which must shut it down at 9 p.m., just about when a Montauk midsummer night’s scene takes off. East by Northeast can never be a nightclub, because that would constitute an expansion of use, prohibited under town law.
The restaurant’s application would appear to be ready to schedule for public hearing, but there was a catch. Because under the code East by Northeast stands too close to wetlands, it must first obtain a natural resources permit and two setback variances, of 67 and 77 feet, from the zoning board of appeals. That board, however, could not hold its hearing until the planning board ruled, under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, that the project would not have a negative impact on the area.
This presented Robert Schaeffer, a board member, with a problem: What if a new piece of evidence were presented ex post facto? Would the board be locked into the vote it took that night?
After being assured by both counsel and the Planning Department that it could change the vote in that case, the board voted 7-0 to approve the finding under SEQRA, meaning the zoning board is now free to schedule a hearing for the needed variances.
Nancy Keeshan, whose real estate ofice is in downtown Montauk, was supportive of the site plan, but with reservations as to noise. “There’s been a lot of controversy,” she said, about Montauk’s after-dark scene. “I know what I’m hearing. We need to address those comments.”
Pat Schutte, a board member, agreed. “Last time this was brought up, the noise was a question for me. We have to rely on the applicants, or whoever’s there in the future.”
The board encouraged the applicant, a corporation called Stone Lion Inn, to do more to assuage the fears of its neighbors regarding noise, through screening and possibly even by agreeing to restrictive covenants. The next appearance in Town Hall for East by Northeast will be before the zoning board.
For two other applicants, the New Year’s one-word resolution might be, “Details!”
Mary Schoenlein, the owner of two Mary’s Marvelous eateries, has made several missteps in her effort to add an exterior walk-in box to the store in Amagansett, the largest being building it before she had official approval. The planning board has been highly supportive of her throughout the process, with a couple of members mentioning that they were devotees. Eager to schedule the needed public hearing and a final vote of approval, the board has encouraged her, as it does with all applicants, to meet with town planners and attorneys for guidance.
Ms. Schoenlein went before the Z.B.A. in September and eventually received zoning variances regarding the size of the walk-in box.
The planning board’s patience with Mary’s Marvelous may have been strained, though, during the board’s Dec. 5 session, when it finally came time for the public site-plan hearing. It was learned at that time that Ms. Schoenlein, who has represented herself throughout the complicated process, had not properly alerted her neighbors about the hearing. She apparently thought that when she sent them notices about the zoning board hearing the notices covered the planning board hearing as well. They do not.
The planning board’s attorney, Kathryn Santiago, explained that the hearing would have to be rescheduled and that Ms. Schoenlein would be required to send out new notices. The new date for the hearing on the now almost year-old walk-in box is Jan. 9, at 7 p.m.
Pesky details plagued another Amagansett business at the Dec. 19 session. The owners of Amagansett Building Materials, which occupies a 1.6-acre parcel off Abram’s Landing Road, want to tear down three attached one-story buildings and replace them with a two-story building with a basement. They are still in the preliminary stage of approval, and were presenting the board a revised site plan, a little over a year since the first one was submitted.
The revised plan, however, lacked a square-footage calculation for the proposed project. It was also missing a floor plan for the second floor, and it failed to respond to previous board suggestions regarding landscaping and parking. Richard Whalen of LandMarks, an Amagansett firm that helps applicants navigate the procedural maze involved in getting a building permit, faced some tough questions from the board.
“This is going to be a difficult application,” said Diana Weir. “Why does it seem to be such a challenge to figure out the square footage? A lot of housekeeping issues need to be addressed.”
“We’re early in the process. The applicant has some homework to do,” said Reed Jones, the board’s chairman.
The board also took up the issue of a potential road abandonment that would turn a town-owned cul-de-sac at the end of Water’s Edge in Barnes Landing into private property, split between two of the three parcels of land surrounding the road. The town board had referred the matter to the planning board for comment, at the suggestion of David Buda, a Springs resident, before moving ahead on it.
“When I heard that an existing roadway was going to be abandoned, and there was not going to be any hearing, any public input, and that the town board was going to vote on it as a referendum, I felt that was insufficient review,” he told the planning board.
Richard Whalen, an attorney, then spoke, and it quickly became clear that further exploration was needed. The planning board had initially been told that Neil and Miyoung Lee, who own two of the three properties involved, were applying for the road abandonment “together” with the owner of the third property, a holding company. But, according to Mr. Whalen, who represents that company, the Lees were acting on their own.
“They did not propose the road abandonment,” he said about his client.
“They’re not part of this request?” asked Ian Calder-Piedmonte.
“They’re actually not,” Mr. Whalen answered. He said the Lees had been told, “ ‘Hey, we might be interested.’ ” He added, “All my clients want to know is, what’s involved. They would cooperate if it made sense.”
In the end, the planning board agreed to advise the town board to seek written approval from the owner of the third property, and to seek comments as well from both the Springs Fire Department and the town highway superintendent. Members also agreed, at Mr. Calder-Piedmonte’s suggestion, to recommend that the town board hold a public hearing before it voted on the road abandonment.