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Reclaiming Montauk: Residents, officials want to take community back from partyers

Montauk Village, when it is quiet and not

Montauk Village, when it is quiet and not overrun by partyers, shown on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Credit: Veronique Louis

The once-sleepy hamlet of Montauk, famed for world-class fishing and surfing as well as its landmark lighthouse, is in crisis, local officials say, because of disruptive Hamptons-style partying.

And year-round residents say they're determined to take back their community.

Streets with intoxicated visitors, public urination, all-night noise and traffic-clogged roads have worsened during the summer season in the past five years, community leaders say, culminating in an explosive July Fourth weekend that generated more than 400 complaints to police.

"Sometimes we find people passed out on the lawn or asleep in our cars, and they're usually not that particularly apologetic," said Orla Troy, who lives on Fort Pond next to the Surf Lodge with its indoor bar, outdoor bar, lakeside lounge chairs and tiki umbrellas. People have used the grouping of trees in her front yard as a public toilet, she said. Clothing and condoms are often scattered on her property.

Troy, 50, is moving to South Carolina, she said, in part because of the growing weekend problems.

Weekend transformation

On weekday afternoons, families with children and dogs window-shop and wander the Montauk streets lined with surf and tackle shops, restaurants with outdoor seating, and clothing stores. The hamlet retains its alluring seaside resort vibe, with its bustling harbor, wide beaches and quiet country lanes. But on weekends, revelers crowd into bars, clubs and house parties.

"By 3 o'clock [in the afternoon] I can't even take a walk or get my car out of the driveway safely because of all the cars" in Montauk, Troy said.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said the partyers have pushed residents and business owners to their "boiling point."

"Things always change, and change in and of itself isn't terrible. But things are happening that are detrimental to the community," Bette Smith, 80, said July 15 at the regular meeting of the East Hampton Town Democratic Committee -- one of several gatherings where the partying problem took center stage last week. "The clubs are drawing a lot of young people that drink, and 10 or 12 kids are renting a house and destroying the property."

Officials are scrambling to change local laws and increase enforcement to gain control.

The town board on July 14 authorized overtime for police, fire officials and code enforcement officers to crack down on violations, and approved weekly code enforcement inspections for public places. The overtime was approved so that no one is taken off their regular daily duties to work on the enforcement effort, officials said.

"This can't just be rhetoric, it has to be real," Cantwell said of the crackdown. Since the July Fourth weekend, there have been "maybe as many as 300" citations issued, he said.

Last weekend resulted in seven arrests for drunken driving, drug possession and possession of a forged instrument, East Hampton Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo said. Four businesses were cited for noise violations, and one was given a citation for hosting a "mass gathering" on the beach without a permit, Sarlo said.

Call for action

Almost 300 fed-up residents crowded into the July 14 meeting at the Montauk Fire Department to demand something be done.

"I've been living here 40 years and I've never seen a turnout like that," said Lawrence Smith, Bette Smith's 85-year-old husband. "There seems to be a coming together of all of these diverse interests . . . the community is outraged."

Montauk, an unincorporated hamlet on the eastern tip of Long Island's South Fork, has a year-round population of 3,000. That number can swell to more than 30,000 in the summer, according to the Montauk Chamber of Commerce.

Musician Paul Simon lives in Montauk and designer Ralph Lauren has a home there. Pop artist Andy Warhol entertained art and entertainment industry friends at his Montauk estate. Convicted Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff had a beach house there.

Established in 1661 primarily as a fishing village, Montauk has long been popular with families and vacationers looking for a "non-Hamptons" atmosphere. New, younger visitors are looking for the nightlife.

This summer's problems aren't about locals versus visitors or old versus new, Bette Smith said. Instead, the concerns are about the numbers of weekend visitors, their behavior and the responsibilities of the businesses that cater to them.

Deputy Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, who called the situation in Montauk a crisis, said between 8,000 and 10,000 people were in the clubs and bars or on the street during the July Fourth weekend.

Calls to police from that Friday morning through Monday morning totaled 464, Sarlo said. That's about 50 more than for the same weekend last year, he said, noting that calls and problems have increased for the past five years.

Police made 16 arrests over the holiday weekend -- 11 for drunken driving and five for harassment and motor vehicle violations.

Seasonal communities like Montauk rely on visitors and the money they spend. But there is a breaking point, many said.

The partyers in Montauk are like "invited guests," Van Scoyoc said. "But at a certain point you don't want your invited guests dancing on your dinner table and smashing your china."

Others said they hope enforcement doesn't go too far and keep people away from Montauk.

"Kids have to have fun sometimes, but it's a shaky situation and I hope the police can control it somehow," said Joseph Belsito, 55, who has rented a house in Montauk for the past 15 years. "You can't tell everyone to get lost."

Nightlife 'not the problem'

Surf Lodge director of operations Julien Bizalion said responsibility for the problems needs to be spread around.

Bizalion, 28, lives in Montauk six months of the year and in Manhattan the other six months. He said he is as concerned as anyone about what's happening to the hamlet. He noted that lodge employees have strong ties to the community and his managing partner lives in Montauk full time.

"We are the face maybe of what nightlife is here, but we're certainly not the problem," Bizalion said. "We have more security here than any other business in Montauk. In my two years here there has never been one fight."

Residents' problems "are also our problems," he said.

After the July Fourth weekend, the Surf Lodge hired five security guards to manage traffic on weekends, Bizalion said.

"We're going out of our way and spending a lot of money" to operate a safe business, he said. And if customers become unruly, "they are removed."

Cantwell said this week that he thinks progress is being made, but that more cooperation is needed from some bar owners.

He cited the Sloppy Tuna on South Emerson Avenue, saying it generated eight noise complaints this summer.

"The lack of cooperation there is discouraging," Cantwell said. "Some businesses are trying to help but some clearly are not."

Sloppy Tuna owner, Drew Doscher, said the noise complaints come from the same person who lives near the bar.

"The ambient level of people just talking is close to a noise violation," Doscher said Wednesday in an emailed response to Cantwell's comments. "The rules need to be adjusted to take all that into consideration."

Montauk Chamber of Commerce president Paul Monte said visitors are still welcome in Montauk.

"They just have to do things in a respectful way."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Orla Troy's name.

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