A diverse cross section of East Hampton Town residents turned out at Town Hall last Thursday to criticize a new law that would regulate outdoor entertainment at town businesses.
The Town Board heard from 19 people—ranging from business owners to musicians to environmental advocates—who all opposed the proposed legislation.
If enacted, the law would require any business that wants to host entertainment to obtain an entertainment permit. The permit would place restrictions on the number of people allowed to congregate outdoors—a number that would be determined by the town police chief, currently Ed Ecker Jr., but could be no greater than one person per 7 square feet. Outdoor entertainment would also be restricted from noon to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and noon to 11 p.m., on Fridays and Saturdays.
“I represent 300 businesses of the Montauk Chamber of Commerce and we are adamantly opposed to the new entertainment permit,” said Laraine Creegan, the executive director of the group.
Many who spoke criticized the occupancy limits, which they said would actually result in an expansion of a use. They also said it is too much power to vest in the chief of police, who would ultimately determine each business’s occupancy.
Jeremy Samuelson, who represented the nonprofit group the Concerned Citizens of Montauk, noted that under the law, a business with 1 acre of usable outdoor space could conceivably attract 6,222 people, based on the one person per 7 square feet rule—resulting in environmental concerns.
“From an environmental perspective, the greatest concern in this proposal lies in its failure to manage septic flow,” he said.
Members of the business community pointed out that the law would be impractical. Paul Monte, the owner of Gurney’s Inn Resort Spa & Conference Center, said government already overregulates businesses by forcing them to obtain a slew of permits—he mentioned that his business obtains a permit to sell frozen food—and that if enacted, the law would be difficult to enforce and follow. He also said that the law would threaten the very reason people vacation in East Hampton Town—to be outside and enjoy a resort community.
“In my opinion there’s no reason to do this,” Mr. Monte said.
Speakers also said they felt the law was crafted in response to problems at one or more businesses in town—namely, the Surf Lodge in Montauk. Instead of creating a new law, Town Board members should deal with those businesses individually, some said.
Jeffrey Bragman, an attorney with an office in East Hampton, ripped apart the law, claiming it unravels East Hampton Town’s planning and zoning policies.
“This is a complete repudiation of 20 years of careful, modulated skillful planning that makes East Hampton and Montauk the desirable business community that it is,” he said. “It’s a complete repudiation.”
Job Potter, a former town councilman and musician, said the Town Board should consider the effects the law could have on local musicians, who make a living off of playing at venues that would become restricted under the law.
“I hope as you go forward that you might be thinking about the possibility that while certain situations at clubs create problems, what the musicians need is more places to play,” he said.
Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, who spearheaded the law, said the legislation was not aimed at only a few establishments. After everyone finished commenting on the proposal, she said the law was supposed to help residents deal with issues related to people congregating outdoors, traffic and parking and sanitary capacity.
“This particular proposal, flawed as it may be, may have struck a middle ground because it made everybody furious,” she joked.
She also said it struck her that two different groups came out with the same thoughts on the issue.
“In truth there are many sides to this issue and it is a thorny problem and I think that we heard very, very, very, very strongly ‘no,’” she said. “But what was interesting was we heard it from two completely different sides.”
The Town Board voted to close the public hearing but did not take additional action.