Planners Miffed by Rowan-Town Agreement

A controversial settlement between Marc Rowan, the owner of Duryea’s Lobster Deck in Montauk, and East Hampton Town in a dispute regarding uses of the property requires Mr. Rowan to obtain site plan approval and a permit from the town planning board, but limits the scope of the board’s site plan approval. At a meeting on March 6, planning board members grappled with the restrictions placed on them by the settlement.

Mr. Rowan, a billionaire investor, purchased the three-acre property, a pier and complex of buildings on Fort Pond Bay, in 2014. 

According to the settlement, the town will provide a certificate of occupancy for existing structures, including those used for outdoor dining, fish processing and preparation, and wholesale and retail seafood sales, as well as for a house with an attached garage that was once a residence for the family of Perry Duryea Sr., who helped launch the business more than 80 years ago.

Mr. Rowan agreed to prohibit cruise liners or ferry services from docking on the pier, and to contribute to a road-improvement fund to mitigate flooding at the intersection of Tuthill and Manor Roads. He also agreed to donate the property at 120 Tuthill Point Road as well as half of Tuthill Pond and its bottomlands to a qualified environmental organization or, in the latter case, the town. 

The settlement requires Mr. Rowan to obtain a permit from the planning board to operate a restaurant in a waterfront-zoning district, but it limits the scope of the board’s site plan approval. The board is only permitted to review a parking plan and the installation of an updated nitrogen-reducing septic system, which Mr. Rowan must have in place within 18 months of receiving approval for the restaurant. The planning board must also provide expedited review of the application.

Although board members were asked to evaluate the location and specifications for the restaurant’s proposed wastewater disposal system, the town had already agreed that the system could be placed on the residential portion of the lot, which is uphill from the commercial buildings.

“This is the craziest routing uphill of a sewage system that I’ve ever encountered,” said Kathy Cunningham, the vice chairwoman, said. “It’s long and circuitous, and I’m concerned that it’s not going to function that well.” 

Her colleague Randy Parsons questioned the decision to allow the restaurant to operate for 18 months before a new septic system is in place. “And what happens after 18 months if the wastewater system isn’t installed or functioning?” he asked. 

Mr. Parsons also wondered whether the planning board was allowed to designate the number of seats allowed in the restaurant. The capacity, he said, would factor into decisions about wastewater treatment and parking. 

According to a memo from JoAnne Pahwul, the town’s assistant planning director, the application indicates that the property contains 84 pre-existing non-conforming parking spaces, including 3 that are handicapped accessible, as well as 11 boat slips. But Ms. Pahwul noted that one of the maps included with the settlement showed only 24 spaces. She requested additional information on the parking plan from the applicant and more details about two retaining walls to be built in conjunction with the sanitary system. 

Samuel Kramer, the chairman, invited the public to weigh in on the application. Lisa Grenci, who lives on Tuthill Road, took issue with the installation of a “massive septic system in a 100-year-flood zone and on an environmentally and archaeologically significant parcel.” She also said her community would be negatively impacted by the presence of a full-scale restaurant.

“There have been 80 cars parked on that block, and it’s been nothing but a fire hazard, an ambulance hazard, and overwhelming septic abuse for our neighborhood,” she said. “It’s imperative for you not to follow any stipulation, but to follow the town code.”

David Gruber, a lawyer and the East Hampton Independence Party’s candidate for town supervisor in 2019, said that since the planning board was not a party to the lawsuit between Mr. Rowan and East Hampton Town, it was not subject to the terms of the settlement. The planning board is an independent body, he said. “You do not follow instructions from the town board.” Mr. Gruber said he was prompted to speak at the meeting because he found the settlement with Mr. Rowan to be an “outrageous abuse of the system.” 

The board has enlisted David Arnsten as outside counsel for this application, replacing John Jilnicki, the board’s lawyer, who recused himself because he was one of the town attorneys who negotiated the settlement with Mr. Rowan.

Since the application was deemed incomplete, the hearing was adjourned to a date to be determined. In the interim, Mr. Kramer said, an executive session will be held to allow members to consult with Mr. Arnsten. “The limitations of this order is something we should talk about with counsel, so we have an understanding of what we can and cannot do,” he said.