The attorney representing Rumba Rum Bar, the Hampton Bays restaurant that has drawn the ire of some neighbors since it opened in 2011 for regularly exceeding its capacity and requiring the routine pumping of its cesspool during the summer, said the property could have a new septic system installed within the next two months.
During a hearing before the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals last Thursday, September 19, attorney David Gilmartin, who is also representing the owner of the Canoe Place Road property that the restaurant sits on, said they have secured permission from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services to update Rumba’s septic system. Ron Arcate, another attorney representing both Rumba and the land owner—listed in town records as Bradley’s Fishing Station LLC—said the current cesspool is more than 20 years old.
Mr. Gilmartin also informed board members that the property owner would no longer seek parking or occupancy relief from them, and requested that they remove Rumba from the modified application that now only requests setback relief in front of the restaurant. The request is needed so a hand rail can be installed to channel patrons to the side of the building and prevent them from spilling out onto the street or congregating in front of the restaurant.
The zoning board is expected to decide on the requested setback relief at its meeting on Thursday, October 17. Once that happens, the town would be able to resume prosecution of the property owner who continues to enjoy amnesty because he still has an application before the zoning board.
But Town Attorney Tiffany Scarlato said this week that prosecution could prove difficult because the restaurant and landlord who, up until last week, had been working together to remedy the issues, have addressed—or are addressing—the two main violations: the lack of ample parking for customers and exceeding the building’s occupancy.
On July 31, Southampton Town Chief Building Inspector Michael Benincasa credited Rumba with an additional 10 parking spots in exchange for the property’s 20 boat slips because of their “seasonal nature,” according to a letter sent from Mr. Benincasa to Mr. Gilmartin. Also, county officials said Rumba is nearing approval to install a new septic system—most likely another cesspool unit that will have a larger capacity than the current one and sit higher on the land—that would allow the restaurant to increase its seating capacity by 42, addressing the over-occupancy issue.
“The fact of the matter is,” Ms. Scarlato said, “if they were in violation because they required a variance and they no longer need that variance, then there is less of a non-conformity [with town code].”
Rumba was removed from the application per an agreement between the landlord and David Hersh, the restaurant owner, Mr. Gilmartin said, the details of which he said he was not privy to. Mr. Hersh said the restaurant is no longer included because the issues he was seeking to resolve—parking and occupancy—can be done without bypassing the town code and, therefore, seeking a variance from the zoning board is no longer required.
Vanessa Baird-Streeter, the director of communications for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, said the new septic system would maintain the same number of seats inside the restaurant—16 at tables and five at the bar, for 21 total—but would permit the addition of 42 outdoor seats, for a grand total of 63.
Ms. Baird-Streeter said Rumba’s request for a new septic system is “an approvable application,” though she was quick to add that the restaurant must still file additional documentation before being granted the additional seating. She noted that once a legal covenant is filed, full approval will be finalized in short order. She declined to say the nature of the agreement.
“Hopefully, we can have this all finished by the end of the year,” she said.
Because the process is not yet complete, Mr. Arcate said he was hesitant to off an exact timetable on when the new sewage system will be in the ground. The new system, which Mr. Arcate said would be a modified version of what currently is used, would be positioned 3 feet above the highest expected groundwater, instead of the current 2-foot clearance. The new system can handle up to 1,185 gallons of waste per day, Ms. Baird-Streeter said.
Mr. Arcate also stressed the fact that Rumba’s owner and the landlord have different wants and needs, adding that the property owner is more concerned about safety issues than increasing the building capacity. He said that is why the property owner is seeking permission to install the hand rail and reduce the number of people who get dropped off and picked up in front of the restaurant; due to its small parking lot, Rumba offers a bus that shuttles customers to off-site parking at the Cowfish restaurant, which is also owned by Mr. Hersh.
“The bottom line to this is that the landlord is working diligently to make sure property is in compliance,” Mr. Arcate said.
Rumba, meanwhile, must still work with the Town Planning Board if it wants to modify its site plan to allow for additional parking, according to ZBA Vice Chair Adam Grossman.
Mr. Gilmartin did not return multiple calls this week seeking comment about if or when that process would commence.
Mr. Arcate said he is not sure what's next once the new septic system is installed, but that decision will come after this phase is complete.
Regarding why it took so long for Rumba to receive county health department approval, a process that began on August 16, 2012, Mr. Hersh attributed it to slow-moving government bureaucracy. He also denied allegations that his restaurant had been allowed to continue operating while outside compliance to any favoritism by Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, who featured Mr. Hersh in campaign advertisements two years ago.
He also said that, as the lessee, he has little control over shortcomings with the building that have existed since he began renting the space. “It’s his issue, but it’s my problem,” Mr. Hersh said.
He also remains optimistic about his future in Hampton Bays, stating that both his restaurants will be open year-round for the first time since he opened them and noting that he plans to open additional locations in the future.
“I hope we can all just be great neighbors,” he said, referring to those who are upset with his business, “because the restaurant isn’t going anywhere.”