Rumba Discussion Continues, Reluctantly

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Southampton Town officials recounted their ongoing struggles to address traffic safety and quality-of-life problems caused by the popularity of Rumba restaurant on Canoe Place Road in Hampton Bays for the Town Board last week—though, save for one, board members offered little input about how the problems might be addressed.

Town Police Chief Robert Pearce and Town Transportation Coordinator Tom Neely described the problems that have been created by the tiny restaurant, which sits in a largely residential neighborhood along the Hampton Bays waterfront, during last week’s work session.

Chief Pearce said cars and delivery trucks stopping in the narrow, winding road in front of the restaurant to make drop-offs have posed a significant hazard for drivers as cars cross the double yellow line to go around the stopped vehicles. Delivery trucks that use neighbors’ driveways to turn around have been another source of numerous complaints from residents, Mr. Neely added.

The restaurant has occupancy permits for only 16 people and Suffolk County Department of Health approval for 21, but is routinely packed with many times that number on busy nights, town officials said. Town code enforcement officers have found more than 70 seats in the restaurant on multiple occasions, and the owner, David Hersh, has been issued numerous town code violations over the years.

At the start of last summer, with the threat of an injunction to close the restaurant, the town required that it use a satellite parking lot for customers, employing a shuttle bus to bring customers to the restaurant, and that it have its overflowing septic system upgraded and pumped out on a regular basis. But many, if not most, patrons still stop in front of the restaurant to drop off their passengers before the driver proceeds to the satellite lot. And this spring the shuttle bus itself was involved in a collision on the road: it rolled over after colliding with a car driven by one of the restaurant’s neighbors pulling into their driveway.

Mr. Neely suggested that the restaurant’s parking lot could be modified to make it more of a driveway, allowing delivery truck drivers and customers to pull in and out of the road.

“The idea is to get the activity more in the parking lot and less in the travel lanes,” he said.

Mr. Neely said he has spoken with Mr. Hersh about blocking off the main entrance to the restaurant from the street to discourage motorists from stopping in the road rather than pulling into the driveway.

“It all falls on the owner,” Chief Pearce said. “We can make lots of suggestions, but it’s up to him to take those suggestions to his vendors. [For a delivery truck] to pull into that parking lot and … turn around is not easy.”

Councilwoman Bridget Fleming acknowledged Mr. Neely’s considerations, saying that the restaurant’s problems need to be fixed by Mr. Hersh, and that neighbors should not be inconvenienced by the business.

“That is the responsibility of the folks who are running the place, to take on some of the burdens, rather than the neighbors, who aren’t making profit off of it,” Ms. Fleming said. “My perspective is that there is an establishment that is operating way, way over its capacity and the infrastructure there isn’t adequate for the numbers of people you see there.”

Nonetheless, Ms. Fleming was nearly the only board member to speak during the hour-long discussion with Mr. Neely and Chief Pearce. Just holding the discussion raised hackles between board members, particularly between Ms. Fleming and Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst. Ms. Throne-Holst, who has been consistent in opposing most proposals for reining in Rumba’s operations, including as the lone opponent of last year’s threatened injunction, remained completely silent during last Thursday’s discussion, other than to thank the chief and Mr. Neely for their time at the conclusion of the discussion.

Ms. Fleming lamented that, despite the discussion and the steady flow of complaints from neighbors, there still “isn’t the appetite on the Town Board” to take concrete steps to address the issues.

“As everybody knows, I have a different view from other members of the board as to where our responsibility lies,” Ms. Fleming said. “It just highlights why this site is just not suitable for large numbers of people being served, frankly. But it’s a good discussion.”

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