The planned reintroduction of a 60-seat restaurant at The Breakers motel on Old Montauk Highway is the talk of the Montauk community, so much so that one resident plans to challenge East Hampton Town’s issuance of building permits for the construction.
Some say the motel is racing the clock to beat East Hampton Town Board’s proposed law that would create another level of scrutiny for hotels and motels that want a new bar or restaurant.
“At this point, it seems obvious to us,” said attorney David Eagan, who represents Jane Concannon, a neighbor of The Breakers. “It didn’t exist for a period of time, so it’s like reintroducing it to the property. The de facto use of the restaurant in the 1950s and ’60s is irrelevant.”
Mr. Eagan and his client will take the fight either to the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals or through a lawsuit.
Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, who owns the motel with his sister, Helen Ficalora, is proposing to renovate a 700-square-foot space within his motel that has gone unused for decades. During the 1960s, his parents, Madge and Bob Schneiderman, served breakfast, dinner and cocktails at what they named the Burgundy House Buffet.
The siblings’ plan, which they have been working on for three years now, is to serve healthy light food, catering mostly to the motel’s guests.
Mr. Schneiderman said while he’d like to open the restaurant this summer, it will likely open in the summer of 2016.
“It’s kind of part of what people expect when they go to a beach resort—that they can get something to eat and drink,” he said this week. “I have permits for everything, and everything was done by the book.”
The Breakers was issued a certificate of occupancy for the restaurant in 2005 and last year applied for a liquor license with the state, and just a few weeks ago obtained building permits for the renovation.
But residents are saying that The Breakers, which is in a resort zone but abuts homes, shouldn’t have been issued a certificate of occupancy nor building permits, because, even though it is a pre-existing, nonconforming restaurant—meaning the use was there before zoning was in place—it went unused for an extended amount of time. Typically, pre-existing, nonconforming uses are lost once abandoned.
They are also upset that the community was not notified that The Breakers applied for a liquor license.
“How come red flags didn’t explode?” asked Montauk resident Janet Van Sickle during the Town Board meeting on Tuesday. “Is there going to be another Surf Lodge or Cyril’s on Old Montauk Highway, on which we live?”
By law, applicants have to send a liquor license application to the town to notify it of their intent. The town then has 30 days to weigh in on the matter if it so chooses. The clerk’s office routes it to the various departments and police department, and if there is a concern, the clerk’s office follows up on it, according to Town Clerk Carole Brennan.
But Mr. Eagan’s client is interested in proving that the restaurant is not a pre-existing, nonconforming use. “Review of the issue leads us to conclude that the reintroduction of the restaurant to the property is a specially permitted use that requires a special permit and site plan review,” Mr. Eagan said.
Additionally, there is concern that the town did not require more parking. “The motel has not got enough parking for the tenants of the motel when it is full,” Ms. Van Sickle said. “They park out on the road. Where are these additional people going to park?”
Mr. Schneiderman said that he expects his guests to walk to the restaurant and be the primary users of that space. He said there may be 10 or 20 extra cars parked at The Breakers to use the hotel on any given day.
“The facts are on my side,” he said. “Believe me, the town, before it issued building permits, took months going over everything, knowing it would be heavily scrutinized.”
More scrutiny is what the Town Board is proposing to have going forward by proposing a new law that would require motels and hotels to get a special permit and site plan review for new restaurants and bars—accessory uses. Because these uses can affect the character and safety of the community, according to town officials, motels and resorts should be required to undergo more review. The town will notice the law for public hearing next week.
“Prospectively, this will address the larger issue of more and more restaurants and nightclub operations, which I know is a concern of Montauk, and we’re going to try to deal with that in a better way going forward,” said Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell. “The Breakers application went through the process, and it was fully vetted by the Building Department. We were aware and had consultation with the Planning Department and the town attorney’s office, and their determination made it eligible for a building permit for the restaurant. This legislation would draw a line and give new nightclubs and motels a much higher level of scrutiny.”
When asked if he was trying to get his restaurant in place before the new law takes effect, Mr. Schneiderman said it wouldn’t have affected him anyway. “The restaurant is not considered new,” he said. “Maybe they don’t understand, this will not be a problem for anyone. It will be a low-key cafe with a beautiful view of the ocean. They can say whatever they want. There is no disputing the facts in this one.”