Amagansett: How Much Is Too Much?

‘It’s no longer a place for us,’ one resident says

    “They have taken over Amagansett, like they took over Montauk.”

    “They,” according to a speaker at Monday night’s Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee meeting, are the visitors, most of them upscale young professionals, who crowd the hamlet’s share houses and, especially, Indian Wells Beach. They litter, use the dunes as a bathroom, and, to deafeningly loud musical accompaniment, party until dawn.

    “You cannot enjoy your home anymore,” the woman, a resident of the Bell Estate neighborhood, complained, to many nods of agreement. “You cannot go outside. But over all, the whole atmosphere of Amagansett seems to be taken over by outsiders. It’s no longer a place for us.”

    With the four-day holiday weekend behind them, committee members and a capacity crowd of guests shared their experiences and observations. The multiple expressions of frustration underscored the uneasy balance between year-round residents’ quality of life and the town’s dependence on tourist dollars. How much is too much? Those at the meeting appeared to have reached — and surpassed — an undefined but acutely perceived threshold.

    East Hampton Town Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, the committee’s liaison to the town board, reported mixed results of the town’s effort to control crowds and excessive drinking at Indian Wells Beach. She has fielded many complaints about taxis, she said, noting that the attendant in the booth at the entrance to the  parking lot, whose job is to check vehicles for resident parking stickers, was often ignored. And, said Ms. Overby, “There’s been a lot of use of the dunes as bathrooms.”

    Kieran Brew, the committee’s chairman, reported a July 4 count of 1,300 people at the western portion of the beach, outside the lifeguard-protected  area. “When we first started talking about this, we were concerned because it grew from a group of about 100 to 300, 400, or 500. But now we’re talking about over 1,000 people. It was shocking,” Mr. Brew, who lives on Indian Wells Highway, said. Conditions in the parking lot itself, however, were greatly improved, he said, by the addition of an attended booth and enforcement by a Marine Patrol officer. Congestion has eased, and residents are able to find parking space, said Mr. Brew.

    Other members of the committee saw the situation differently. “Fourth of July was the worst weekend I’ve ever seen in 60 years,” said Joan Tulp. She agreed that resident parking has improved, but “everything else just went to pot. After five o’clock, the taxis were where they were not supposed to be. Those kids were walking in groups of 10 or 12, or 40, sometimes. Some were drunk, passed out on the grass.”

    Many residents she spoke with, she said, agreed that alcohol should be banned from guarded beaches. “People even asked me to start a petition. . . . Main Beach does it, Fire Island does it, Southampton does it,” Ms. Tulp said. “I do thank the town and Sylvia, but I think a lot more has to be done.”

    Kathleen Vadasdy, who said she has had a house in Amagansett for almost 20 years, complained about a nearby house, on Acorn Place, that she likened to a nightclub. “The owners rent it on a weekend basis,” she said.

    “What are our enforcement resources?” asked Jeanne Frankl. Citing the hundreds of violations assessed at a popular Montauk establishment last year, she expressed skepticism, along with others, that complaints to code-enforcement officials would have any effect. “Is it going to be something like Surf Lodge? They’ll get a ticket and sometime in the middle of next winter they’ll negotiate a settlement? I’m wondering if there should be some law changes.”

    “Is it that we don’t have the laws, or we don’t have enforcement, or both?” Mr. Brew asked. “This conversation always comes together: those people on the beach are symptomatic of what’s happening in a larger way in Amagansett.”

    “Our fines are too low for almost everything,” Ms. Frankl said. “As essentially a recommending group, we shouldn’t hesitate to recommend what we really would like to see and let some lawyer for the town say it’s excessive. We shouldn’t worry about whether we’re asking for too much. We should ask for what we want and let someone tell us we can’t have it.”

    Someone else then raised the topic of share houses. The town code limits use of single-family houses to residency by the owner’s family or, when the owner or her family is not in residence, “occupancy of the entire residence by one family as guest of owner or as tenant.” “Family” is defined as persons related by blood, marriage, or legal adoption, “or any number of persons not exceeding four . . . where not all are related by blood, marriage or legal adoption.”

    The existence of share houses, said Mr. Brew, is “part and parcel of this whole thing. You have to call code enforcement.”
    What would that do? he was asked.

    “At the moment, it doesn’t do anything,” Mr. Brew said, but “you have to take every little step.”

    Rona Klopman, who lives in Beach Hampton, showed photos taken by another resident of a bus that dropped off 30 passengers at a house on July 3, a Wednesday, and picked them up on Sunday. “The neighbor called code enforcement, and code enforcement said there was nothing they could do,” Ms. Klopman said. Code enforcement officers, she asserted, “are being told not to do anything. That’s why you have share houses, that’s why you have houses overloaded.”

    Ms. Overby gave voice to many committee members’ frustration. “From my point of view, code enforcement is political will,” she said. “And if the political will does not want to enforce our code, it’s not going to be done. At this point in time, I feel that the political will is not there to enforce our share laws.”

    After the lengthy discussion, the committee voted unanimously to write to the town board demanding better enforcement — “or any enforcement,” Mr. Brew said — of share house regulations and excessive mass gatherings, whether permitted or not.

    “It has become notorious that the law is not being enforced,” Ms. Frankl said. “We in Amagansett are seeing this first-hand.”

    In another illustration of how ever-larger crowds are affecting Amagansett residents, Martin Ligorner of Leeton Road urged the committee to join him in opposing the creation of a new beach on Napeague, which is under consideration by the town board as a way to accommodate the summer crowds. He and other nearby residents, he said, had commissioned a study by a former FEMA official, the results of which would be presented to the town board. Mr. Ligorner cited the flooding that occurred during Hurricane Sandy, and the ecological sensitivity of the area, in his opposition to a new beach and its attendant parking lot and restrooms.

    “You can’t get to the beach without disturbing the dunes,” he said. “Any disturbance of the dune could cause extensive flooding, cutting off Montauk.” Mr. Brew asked Mr. Ligorner if the report could be distributed to the committee, to which Mr. Ligorner agreed. Mr. Brew said the matter would be on the agenda of the committee’s meeting in September.

    Finally, on a night when the late Sheila Okin, the committee’s vice chairwoman, was remembered and mourned, the committee nominated and elected Michael Diesenhaus, a new member, to be vice chairman. Ms. Okin died on June 28.