Westhampton Beach Village officials are looking to loosen the reins on those restaurant and bar owners who rely on live music and special events, like comedy nights, to attract potential customers by eliminating a little-known—and rarely enforced—ordinance that prohibits such activities.
Currently, all forms of indoor entertainment at restaurants and bars within the village are prohibited by a 1993 law adopted when the village had at least twice the number of bars and several nightclubs, and officials attempted to address growing complaints about noise and general rowdiness.
But it was not until the Claddagh Restaurant, a new Montauk Highway establishment, hosted a successful comedy night earlier this month that officials at Village Hall learned about the quarter-century-old ordinance, according to Westhampton Beach Mayor Maria Moore.
Though no violations were issued against the restaurant’s owner, Jim Cantwell, village officials—who said they learned about the event through online reviews and social media, and not by someone filing a complaint—decided to revisit the code and, after learning about the ordinance, have opted to tweak it.
Now, they are considering requiring that the owners of bars and restaurants in the village who want to host live music, comedy nights and similar events to apply annually for a new permit, similar to the ones that they must now procure to offer outdoor music and sidewalk dining in the summer months. According to Westhampton Beach Village Attorney Stephen Angel, officials are still working out the details of the proposed permit process, including how much it would cost and how many events a business could host annually.
“It is not all fleshed out but it is similar to the outdoor music and outdoor dining process that will give the board permission to issue a permit on a yearly basis for entertainment in a restaurant, bar, tavern, or a luncheonette,” Mr. Angel said during the board’s most recent work session on March 15. “The idea would be to let an existing bar, restaurant, or tavern have the right to entertain.”
Village Building and Zoning Administrator Paul Houlihan noted that several old and now closed establishments, like Casey’s on Montauk Highway and Magic’s Pub on Main Street, were exempt from the current ordinance because they had been in operation before the code changes. Both of those properties, however, have since lost their pre-existing nonconforming status and, if they do eventually reopen as is the potential case for Magic’s, will now be subject to the law.
The recent opening of new business in the village, and the possibility that more bars and restaurants could open if a sewer district is eventually installed in downtown Westhampton Beach, have prompted village officials to take action.
“That is why this is a shock now,” Village Board member Brian Tymann said, referring to the recent revelation about the forgotten ordinance. “This isn’t something that was implemented last year—it was implemented a long time ago but there were so many preexisting non-conforming uses that were still doing these things, so we didn’t realize everything was cut off.
“Now, all of a sudden,” he continued, “we realize you cannot do this any more because those preexisting businesses aren’t there any more.”
The recent successful comedy night at the Claddagh Restaurant, which opened late last year, caught the attention of officials, though Village Clerk Elizabeth Lindtvit said this week that the village has not received any complaints about that event.
When reached this week, Mr. Cantwell said he, like most village officials, was unaware of the preexisting ordinance, but quickly added that he would be in favor of establishing a permit process that would legally allow such events to be held in the village.
“You want to attract people into the village, not turn them away,” he said. “The more reasons people have to come to the village for all restaurants, the better it is for everybody.”