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East Hampton Town bans bistro-style string lighting without permits

A special events permit is needed to install the lighting often used to rope off outdoor areas at restaurants and bars.

East Hampton Town Hall in East Hampton, as

East Hampton Town Hall in East Hampton, as seen on Feb. 26, 2016. Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

East Hampton Town has banned businesses from using temporary or string lighting without a special event permit, a change that applies to outdoor bistro-style lighting at restaurants and bars.

The need for the law arose after businesses started using strings of lights to rope off outdoor areas that had not been approved for use, according to the new law. The town board voted 5-0 in favor of the legislation during its Feb. 7 meeting, which followed a public hearing where no one spoke on the issue.

“Lighting on commercial properties is part of the site plan and it has to comply with it,” Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said during a December town board work session on the issue. “This was a loophole, if you will, that people were exploiting.”

The law does not apply to residences, which may display the lights for as long as 90 days, or holiday lights displayed from Nov. 15 through Jan. 15.

String lighting is usually not night sky compliant and the temporary lights can pose fire safety risks because they are not inspected by a fire marshal, assistant town attorney NancyLynn Thiele said during the work session.

“You couldn’t put it up as part of your site plan unless you were somehow able to find shielded string lights,” she said.

No other Long Island municipality has enacted an outdoor string lighting ban. Nationally, cities including Asheville, North Carolina, have issued summons against restaurants for violating similar laws.

The East Hampton law will strengthen the town’s abilities to take action against businesses operating outside the bounds of their site plans, Thiele said. She cited the town’s case against Ruschmeyers hotel and restaurant in Montauk, which the town claimed was removing dining tables to operate as a nightclub.

Town officials sought a temporary restraining order in state Supreme Court against the hotel and restaurant in August 2017 and the town won a partial summary judgment against Ruschmeyers in December preventing the business from exceeding its occupancy or operating as a nightclub.

The case was not directly related to the lighting issue, but the complaint noted the business used string lights to illuminate a patio where patrons were served while the business hosted an unapproved nightclub known as Electric Eel.

Ruschmeyers' Bayport-based attorney Lawrence Kelly criticized the new law and said string lights help set the ambience in the hotel and restaurant's outdoor area known as the magic garden. He said the code amendment violates New York State law and that he plans to file a complaint with the New York Department of State.

“East Hampton Town has the most anti-business attitude of any town in New York State,” Kelly said. “They have deep seated animosity to anyone under the age of 40.”

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