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Jun 14, 2016 6:02 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Musicians Decry Music Decibel Level Restrictions In Montauk

Musician Nancy Atlas speaks about decibel levels at Tuesday’s Town Board work session in Montauk. MICHAEL WRIGHT
Jun 14, 2016 6:07 PM

With the flair of showmanship one might expect from professional entertainers, musicians and bar operators brought their displeasure over recent rumblings in the Montauk music scene to the East Hampton Town Board on Tuesday.

In the Montauk Fire Department headquarters, where just under a year ago more than 300 people gathered to urge the board to crack down on the mayhem and misbehavior that engulfed Montauk in the early summer, on Tuesday a few dozen musicians and business owners this time told the board they think the effort has gone a bit too far.

With a decibel meter held in her hand, singer Nancy Atlas sauntered across the front of the room between the audience and the Town Board—singing the National Anthem.

The decibel level of her truncated rendition, she said, read 101 decibels: nearly twice the town’s current threshold for ambient noise emanating from a business hosting live music. That level, she said, was unreasonable.

“I got ticketed for ‘Porgy & Bess’ at the Surf Lodge … I wasn’t playing AC/DC. I was playing ‘Porgy & Bess,’” she told the board. “That ticket is one of the six tickets they have,” she said of the Surf Lodge.

And those six tickets led to the episode that drew many of the other people present at Tuesday’s meeting. After the six violations the Surf Lodge received for noise levels exceeding the town’s 55-decibel maximum last year were reported to the New York State Liquor Authority, the state summoned its owners to a hearing, where it was discovered the popular bar does not have the proper state license to host live music. The Surf Lodge promptly canceled all of its weekly live concerts—including a regular Wednesday night gig by Ms. Atlas—until it can amend its license filings with the state. Navy Beach did the same and other bar owners said they are worried that the town will use the Surf Lodge predicament to halt or severely constrict music elsewhere.

“According to my liquor attorney … what East Hampton has requested of the SLA is almost unheard of,” said Arden Gardell, owner of 668 The Gig Shack. “It’s something the SLA does not pursue or request in any other communities … and East Hampton Town is using it as something that the business community now has to operate in fear of.”

Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell quickly objected, reiterating the position the town has posited since word of the Surf Lodge issue first surfaced. He said the town had asked the SLA to provide it with an accounting of the designations various Montauk liquor license holders filled out on their forms. With this, he said the town would help those businesses who have town live music permits but are not so-registered with the state to be made aware of the discrepancy and get new state permits before they run into the same problems as the Surf Lodge.

Police Chief Michael Sarlo echoed the defense that the town’s only actions since the Surf Lodge hearing were intended to protect Montauk businesses, not scare them.

“We will be taking no further action,” he said. “But if you get a summons for music, and it gets sent off to the SLA, it may give you an issue with your license, as it did for the Surf Lodge. This isn’t about police patrols. It’s about working together as a community.”

The decibel level issues was a sticky one, some of the musicians said. In some cases, almost any sound emanating from a property would result in a violation.

“If we were to accept 55 decibels as ambient … I’ve taken readings and every spot around [Fort Pond] was in violation,” said Chris Pfund, a concert sound engineer and owner of the Montauk Bike Shop. “How do we have a law that’s going to leave us where everyone is in violation, so all you have to do is call and complain and that person is going be ticketed for it.”

Mr. Pfund and Ms. Atlas suggested that the decibel limits could be tweaked, increased, so as to not be quite so onerous on appropriately arranged live music performances, and hopefully not land so many in hot water.

Mr. Cantwell said the town’s noise code parallels noise limits in Southampton, Riverhead and Brookhaven towns and that of 250 individual incidents of noise complaints registered with the town about businesses last summer, just 50 resulted in the issuance of violations—12 of those to the same business. The 20-percent rate of citation, he said, would not seem to indicate the town was being overly aggressive in its pursuit of muffling music.

Town Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, himself a member of a band, said that the criticism of the town’s approach has been unfair.

“I read on Facebook that I’m banning live music,” he said, with a chuckle and shake of his head. “I’m in a band myself. My wife has spent 23 years in this community teaching young kids how to play music and some of them have gone on to become professional musicians. Everyone in my family plays music.”

Mr. Gardell said that the board has raised concerns with the level of their new enforcement efforts that business owners see as too stringent.

“I’ve got cops in front of my restaurant at 8:59 because the music is supposed to be over at 9,” he said. “Everybody is trying to cooperate as much as possible. Your administration … looks at laws in the most extreme ways to restrict the business community, instead of looking for ways to cooperate.”

With a smattering of complaints on Tuesday about ongoing noise issues from some businesses, Mr. Cantwell noted that the message to the town last summer was very different.

“I’m going to go back to last July, where we were,” he said. “Are we stricter, sure. In terms of 9 o’clock really means 10 o’clock, we’re not doing that anymore. And I would disagree with you. I think that’s what the community wants.”

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"Thou shalt not have fun"; the new commandment of the Hamptons.
By johnj (1017), Westhampton on Jun 15, 16 9:36 AM
1 member liked this comment
Why anyone would want to open a business in the Hamptons is beyond me. More fail than are successful. You have government in Southampton and East Hampton Towns that do not want you. You have customers that complain about having to travel to restaurants and grocery stores but when one opens by them, they try to shut it down. Then the politicians are shocked that entrepreneurship is down and there are more winter and summer vacancy's. Were any of these officials young? or just nerds?
By The Real World (368), southampton on Jun 15, 16 1:39 PM
Shhhhh!!! Everyone has to whisper in the Hamptons after 9pm. If the town board hears a peep from anyone they will pass laws to issue everyone $1000 fines. And if you are observed enjoying yourself more than three times you will be banned from the Hamptons.
By localEH (423), East Hampton on Jun 15, 16 1:50 PM
2 members liked this comment
And now you can buy alcohol earlier than noon in NYS on a Sunday.! Alcohol is available earlier but music gets cut back???
By Woods woman (140), East hampton on Jun 15, 16 10:23 PM
Sounds like Montauk is in need of a happy medium. It goes from Mardi-Gras to a convent in the span of a winter. Doesn't seem right to cure the flu with Chemotherapy. By punishing fans of live music, you punish the people that had the LEAST to do with the predicament in which Montauk finds itself. Don't hurt local business to curb outside disruption. It is NOW that our locals need to be making money for the next 12 months. Use your head, Larry.
By KevinLuss (356), SH on Jun 16, 16 6:57 AM
2 members liked this comment
The Surf Lodge, Sole, Ruschmeyer's and others have ignored residents complaints about noise levels for years. They just pay the summonses as part of doing business. No more. The gig is up. What used to be a nice, mellow place to go in the Summer has now turned into a haven for rich & obnoxious thanks to out of town business owners that do not care at all about Monuak and it's residents plus air bnb driving up all of the rental prices. How sad.
By JamesTemple (1), on Jun 20, 16 3:17 PM
1 member liked this comment
It's the State Liquor Authority's regs not the town's. Every liquor license holder knows the application rules, just sloppy or lazy paperwork by owner or lawyer. Can't blame Cantwell for this one.
By harbor (409), East Hampton on Jun 20, 16 3:27 PM
1 member liked this comment
The Surf Lodge has been utterly destroyed. We all knew the place was a joke as a lodging or dining destination, but at least you could go grab a beer, watch the sunset and catch a free show there, Now, even the "free" concerts have been destroyed by d-bag promoters hawking bottle service (ie Tommy Saleh) to share house losers. If you trip out there you will likely spend your evening behind the velvet ropes in a parking lot filled with an angry mob. YOU WILL NOT BE LET IN DESPITE HAVING RSVP'd. An ...more
By thewiseking (17), Montauk on Jun 28, 16 12:46 PM
What the 20% rate says to me is that a lot of my tax dollars were spent on personnel responding to 200 bogus complaints against businesses. Were the calls from North Fork residents included, or was someone smart enough to rule those out right off the bat?
By Board Watcher (532), East Hampton on Jun 29, 16 12:57 PM
Hampton Bays Rotary, Autumn Evening by the Sea, Oakland's, HB Rotary