The Ditch Plains Association and other groups who oppose a proposed conversion of the old East Deck Motel in Montauk into a private membership club celebrated their success—so far, at least—with a cocktail party and informational meeting on Saturday.
With a petition bearing 5,000 signatures, the DPA and its partners—Concerned Citizens of Montauk, the Montauk Beach Property Owners Association, and Surfrider—helped put a halt to the proposal. Instead of going forward with a Town Planning Board review, the owners of the property, ED40 LLC, decided to temporarily pull the application and give East Hampton Town a chance to purchase and preserve the 4-acre parcel as open space or for recreational use.
A membership club would have increased the number of parking spaces at the property, introduced a new septic system, expanded the existing building, and possibly changed the dynamic of the family surfing beach, opponents said.
While the event on Saturday at the South Edison restaurant was certainly a good time, with hors d’oeuvres and live music by Sarah Conway, there was a feeling of uncertainty among the 80 or so Montauk residents, who seemed to be proud to come together on the effort, and to celebrate, but not to declare victory just yet.
“We are pleased the ED40 acknowledged the overwhelming community opposition to their development plan and is offering the property for sale to the town … but this deal is not done,” said DPA member Laura Michaels. “There is no assurance that ED40 will offer a price that the town’s Community Preservation Fund could purchase.”
Many Montauk residents and surfers showed up to support the cause against the development, saying while they know change is inevitable, the proposed plan would negatively affect their neighborhood, since it would increase traffic, introduce a new sanitary system in a flood zone designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and bring a different use to Ditch Plains Beach.
DPA member and lifetime resident Connie Cortese said ED40 doesn’t understand Montauk, because if it did, it wouldn’t have proposed the 179-member club in the first place. “This community—you either get it or you don’t, and when you do, you can’t get it out of you,” she said. “Ditch Plains is very much a community where everybody knows each other, especially at that beach.”
A 30-year resident of Ditch Plains, Sue Gold, who is also on the DPA, referenced the motto of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk, saying that the goal is to “Keep Montauk Montauk” and that Ditch Plains is not for 1-percenters, but for families and those who live in and take care of Montauk.
She said preserving the East Deck property would extend the amount of parkland available to the public and keep the beach as one stretch. There was a concern that since ED40’s property line extends approximately 30 to 60 feet seaward of the dune, beach access would be limited.
“The ideal would be for the town to buy it, but it might be asking too much,” said another 30-year resident, Louis Mosconi. “We’ve watched a lot of change over the years, but this is too much. It’s beyond reasonable.”
In the DPA’s question-and-answer session, it was clear that at the moment whatever happens between the town and ED40 is out of the public’s hands. Officials in the town’s CPF and Land Management Department are currently considering the purchase, but an appraisal must be done. Once that is complete, negotiations will begin.
Scott Wilson, the department’s director, said he could not say where the department is in the process, because “once a property is in the ‘process,’ it is all executive information” and cannot be discussed publicly.
Meanwhile, there is always a chance that ED40 will come back with a new proposal. Earlier this month, the group’s attorney, Richard Hammer, sent a letter to the Planning Board asking for an adjournment on the existing application, but also noting that ED40 would still be working on an alternative plan in the meantime while discussing a proposed sale to the town. According to Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell, that alternate plan, to his knowledge, has not yet been submitted to the Planning Board.
On Monday, Ms. Michaels said there are still a lot of unanswered questions, but that doesn’t mean opponents can sit still.
“We’re moving along, but of course everybody is worried,” she said. “A lot of people are not sure whether or not ED40’s offer to the town is authentic and not just a public relations ploy. We are moving forward as if we have to fight, by organizing teams, having meetings every week and working with our attorney, although the application is on hold.”