Comprehensive Guide for Montauk’s Future

This evening at about 6:30, the East Hampton Town Board will hold a hearing on a more than two-year effort to write a new master plan for Montauk, the culmination of a hamlet study by consultants whose goal was to create more attractive, walk-able, and economically vibrant commercial centers.

Business is a big deal in Montauk. A 2017 inventory counted 309 different concerns, occupying about 1.1-million square feet of indoor space, while about two-thirds of the houses in the hamlet are second homes or seasonal rentals. Montauk also is burdened with 70 percent of East Hampton’s hotel rooms and a staggering number of day trippers in summer. The study’s authors identified three principal geographic areas: the downtown commercial center, the vicinity of the train station, and Montauk Harbor around Flamingo Avenue and West Lake Drive.

Environmental challenges include threats to groundwater from pollution, saltwater intrusion, and habitat loss, particularly along the Lake Montauk shoreline. The deer population has burgeoned, bringing unwelcome change to the woodlands, nearly eliminating herbaceous plants and saplings, as well as being a habitat for ticks, with the potentially fatal illnesses and meat allergy they can cause.

Sea level rise’s impact on low-lying parts of the hamlet presents a distinct set of problems. The entire first row of hotels and residences along the ocean shore is within a high-risk, 100-year flood zone, and a good portion of the remainder, as well as what is around the Montauk docks, is within a potentially catastrophic 500-year flood zone. As such, the study foresees a bridge being needed some years out to get east of Fort Pond. And, because the oceanfront remains zoned for resorts, significant redevelopment could still potentially occur. This will have to change, the authors imply. 

Among the recommendations are relocating houses and businesses from threatened areas to higher ground — likely paid for by the acquisition of property for open space and wetland restoration. The public is already paying dearly in a fool’s errand at so-called Dirt Bag Beach in Montauk. Temporary storm protection would be allowed there in order to buy time for some businesses to shift away from the vulnerable shore or use development rights credits elsewhere — rebuilding protective dunes where the oceanfront row of hotels had been. 

The consultants also warn of the possibility of a new project of “significant size” around the Gosman’s Dock properties near Montauk Inlet. Maintaining the fishing fleet as the harborfront is gentrified will be a challenge, they say. A real, working fishing industry, not a “Disneyland idealized version,” should be the goal.

One of the most pressing issues is how to expand affordable and seasonal housing for workers in Montauk’s service and fishing industries. Changes to town law after 2005 reduced the estimated total buildout significantly, but the study notes that more than 600 new housing units could still be constructed.

Other recommended changes involve downtown parking and traffic, better street lighting, and making the road around Carl Fisher Plaza at the center of downtown one-way only. And throughout the hamlet, development should be based on thoughtful new standards for buildings, streets, sidewalks, parks, and other public spaces, focusing on mixed-use pedestrian-friendly places.

Tonight’s hearing is more or less a formality at which residents can have a last say at the overarching goals within the plan. What happens next is up to the members of the town board. They have a very good basis to work with.