A week before its initial review, a controversial application to turn Montauk’s East Deck Motel at Ditch Plains into a private, members-only beach club has been pulled from the East Hampton Town Planning Board agenda, while the owners float the idea of allowing the town to purchase and preserve the property instead.
The principals of ED40 LLC., which owns the motel, announced on September 12 that they were seeking an adjournment from the scheduled September 17 Planning Board meeting at which they were to present their proposal.
According to his letter to the board, attorney Richard Hammer, who represents ED40, said the decision to postpone the review was “based on a significant amount public comments received,” which led ED40 to offer the property to the town for public acquisition.
Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said he believes the Town Board will consider the purchase. “We agree that that property is very unique, and currently the town owns a public beach on both sides of it, so it might be of interest to the town,” he said.
The East Deck motel was purchased by ED40 from its former owner, Alice Houseknecht, last October for $15 million. As of last week, ED40 had been proposing to add a new 8,000-square-foot swimming pool, hot tub, showers, restaurant, spa and exercise room, gate house, 64 more parking spaces and decking on the 4-acre parcel. To upgrade the grounds further, a new septic system would be installed to handle a daily occupancy of 537 people, along with waste totaling approximately 5,000 gallons. About 14 feet of fill was slated to be brought in to raise the septic system above the flood zone.
ED40’s plan for its high-end private beach club at the site caused an outcry from community and environmental groups in recent weeks, who said the proposal was not in line with the town’s Comprehensive Plan or its Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, because it would increase traffic and compromise both the property and water quality in the area.
When news broke last Friday that ED40 is giving the town a chance to purchase the property with Community Preservation Fund money, some outspoken community members in opposition to the private club counted it as a small victory.
“It’s pretty amazing how much the community came together on this—it’s just overwhelming,” said Laura Michaels, a Ditch Plains resident and member of the Ditch Plains Association. The association’s online petition opposing ED40’s plans has already reached more than 5,000 signatures in less than one month. “I think the property being held as a preserve will greatly enhance the public beach experience and serve as a true model as a sound coastal policy. It would be a strong statement.”
Mike Bottini, the chairman of the Surfrider Foundation Eastern Long Island Chapter, said ED40’s proposal was “poor coastal planning,” since it is within the flood zone and during a storm could be hit with at least one and a half feet of wave action, which “is not a small wave.” He said a 3-foot wave is “a great wave to surf.”
Mr. Bottini, who also writes a column for the Sports & Outdoors section of The Press, said the best solution would be for the town to purchase and preserve the parcel, which would only add to the numerous town-owned nature preserves and parks that sit to the east and west of it. “The town would be leading the way in terms of actual properties acquired there,” he said, later noting that there are 365 acres of public nature preserve and parkland surrounding the motel. “The idea of adding more structure to what should have never been built on in the first place goes against everything Surfrider is about.”
Mr. Bottini said he, Jeremy Samuelson from Concerned Citizens of Montauk, and Kevin McAllister, the former Peconic Baykeeper who recently started the nonprofit Defend H2O, met with ED40’s principals Lars Svanberg and Scott Bradley last Wednesday to discuss the plans and told them that the only acceptable plan would be to sell to the town. ED40 announced the decision to adjourn the Planning Board review two days later.
A series of actions would have to be taken before the town could make a decision about whether to go forward with the purchase.
Mr. Cantwell said the proposal must first be referred to the town’s Department of Land Acquisition and Management and be reviewed by the Community Preservation Fund Committee. It would then go to the Town Board for consideration.
In the meantime, while the town is figuring out its next move, ED40 will continue to tweak its proposal for a private club at the East Deck, according to Mr. Hammer’s letter.
“We will, however, work to revise our plans and improve our presentation for further consideration by the Planning Board while this consideration by the Town Board proceeds and will be in touch with you when we are ready for further consideration by the Planning Board on any revised plans,” he stated.
Ms. Michaels said Ditch Plains Association and others aren’t backing down until they see a solution they can agree on.
“We’re not going to stop anything right now, because we can’t,” she said. “There’s a direction we’re moving toward, and until there’s a deal in place for the town to purchase the land, we’re going to keep going.”