A month-old crackdown on disruptive partying in Montauk has already divided residents and business owners, some of whom say the effort has gone too far.
East Hampton Town officials have issued almost 1,000 citations -- for offenses such as noise, overcrowding and public urination -- since a particularly rowdy July Fourth prompted 300 angry residents and business owners to attend a July 14 town board work session demanding action to restore order to the hamlet.
Supervisor Larry Cantwell said in an interview Thursday that he has gotten positive feedback and is very pleased so far with the crackdown, which he said will continue next year. But he added that permanently returning Montauk to a family-friendly summer destination requires that more be done.
"You need the flexibility to react and be proactive, and you need to be able to sustain that until things change," he said, noting that East Hampton Town Board members will consider hiring more full-time law and code enforcement personnel to step things up when they work on the budget this fall.
But critics said officials have been overdoing it by targeting businesses, venues and people who aren't part of the problem, and they said they fear the continued crackdown will ruin the hamlet's vital tourist trade.
"The Montaukalypse is over, but every licensed local cabaret owner is afraid to make a peep anymore," said Julie Brumm, a Montauk resident and the former Chamber of Commerce director. "The local government has responded but there are small businesses being hit, too," she said of the citations. "They're not the businesses causing the problems."
Brumm has lived in the hamlet for about 30 years. She has owned retail stores and is a member of the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee. She said that even at the downtown Music on the Green event held by the chamber every Monday night, there is a police presence that now feels intrusive.
"Basically there are local people and a lot of older people who come out with their beach chairs," Brumm said. "I hear cops are now walking around looking for people with open containers of alcohol. Are they going to start arresting old ladies?"
Some business owners said they are considering seceding from the rest of Montauk and East Hampton Town because of the crackdown and becoming incorporated, said Tracey Gardell, who owns the Gig Shack, a restaurant that offers an outdoor and indoor bar and live music. She said the crackdown has resulted in so much lost business that she has had to fire six employees and no longer serves lunch.
"There are no representatives from Montauk on the town board," Gardell said. "There's lots of discussion of the downtown becoming a separate village."
Cantwell acknowledged the complaints, saying, "When you make the efforts that we're making, there's always going to be a certain amount of fallout."
Steve Kalimnios, owner of the Royal Atlantic Beach Resort Hotel on South Emerson Avenue, said the crackdown has already made a huge change. He agrees with Cantwell that it should continue and that additional police should be involved.
Kalimnios said that bands of 50 to 60 drunken revelers used to regularly stumble by his hotel as they barhopped around the hamlet and that he had to hire security to keep them at bay.
"They've [officials] absolutely done what they're supposed to do; the police presence makes sure there are no problems," he said. "I feel like someone turned a switch on. It's like night and day."
Arlene Levin, who has lived in Montauk for 30 years, agreed.
"I think it's absolutely necessary, and we might have to go overboard for a while to get things back to a happy medium," she said of the stepped-up measures. "Young people in massive crowds get carried away. We want to discourage [disruptive] people from coming here without doing damage to our businesses."
Kalimnios also said the hamlet needs to find its happy medium.
"I feel bad about people being [adversely] affected by it," he said. "But the pendulum had swung really far. Hopefully we can find the right balance."