Residents and business owners attending a long-awaited hearing in East Hampton on a proposed law designed to control outdoor crowds at popular summer nightspots had a strong, and singular, opinion -- they all agreed the legislation was terrible.
Town board members, who had hoped to enact the measure this summer, bowed to the opposition and tabled the measure after agreeing that it would need substantial work.
"We are a resort community. People want to be outside," said Paul Monte, president and general manager of Gurney's Inn in Montauk. He, like other business owners at the hearing Thursday night, complained they are already laboring under a variety of town, county and state laws.
Others were concerned that a new law that was too strict would harm the community beyond the summer season.
"We depend on summer business to get us through the winter," said Cathy Weiss of Montauk, one of the 100 residents, business owners and civic association officials at the hearing.
The town decided to craft a law covering outdoor crowds because of complaints over the years about large and rowdy groups that gather at a handful of nightspots each summer. No municipality in New York State has legislation that would apply to existing businesses.
The proposed law would have required a permit for outdoor entertainment, forced an establishment to have 7 square feet of space for every patron outdoors and imposed stiff fines for violations -- up to $10,000 and 15 days in jail for repeat offenses.
Several of the two dozen speakers said the real problem is that the town does not enforce its existing laws, and urged speedier trials once business owners get summonses for violating town code provisions.
But, board members said, they cannot order independently elected town judges to work faster, or to stop allowing town attorneys to negotiate settlements with business operators. And Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, who helped draft the law, said nothing the town does will ever allow it to close pre-existing businesses, those that were in operation before the town adopted its zoning code and can legally continue to operate as long as they wish.
"There are many sides to this issue," Quigley said after the hearing. "We sought to address a problem . . . [but] there are no tools in the toolbox. . . . If there's no law on the books, there is nothing to enforce."
She was applauded after saying the proposed law would be reworked.
"We'll make it better," Quigley promised.