A popular bayside restaurant that has been criticized in the past for violating its occupancy and overloading its septic system has once again drawn ire from some residential neighbors who say that the business is now shuttling patrons from the Hampton Bays High School parking lot on weekends.
For the second consecutive summer, Rumba Rum Bar on Canoe Place Road has inked an agreement with the Hampton Bays School District that allows the restaurant’s staff to use the high school lot on East Argonne Road to make room for customers in the small lot next to the popular eatery. It also has access to a small lot near the Mariner’s Cove Marina on Canoe Place Road, next to another restaurant, called Cowfish, that is also owned by those who operate Rumba, and shuttles customers to the restaurant on a converted school bus called the “Rumbus.”
In exchange for access to the high school parking lot, Rumba owner David Hersh has agreed to donate $1,500 to the district this year, money for three $500 scholarships that will be given to Hampton Bays High School graduates who plan on attending a two- or four-year college to study business or entrepreneurship, according to Hampton Bays Schools Superintendent Lars Clemensen. He noted that last year, Mr. Hersh provided the district with a $1,000 scholarship.
Some neighbors, however, maintain that the school lot is not being used exclusively for employees, as per the agreement approved by district administrators, but customers as well.
Merry Grube, who lives on Argonne Road, said she observed at least 30 cars in the lot one recent Saturday night and the “Rumbus” passed by her home en route to the school six times in an hour. Ms. Grube said she suspects the excess traffic stemmed from a birthday party taking place at Rumba that night, which she attended.
“Our concern is that it started out with just employees parking there, but now the patrons are parking there as well,” Ms. Grube said. “It’s a drug-, tobacco- and alcohol-free zone, and patrons of a bar are being directed to park there.”
Mr. Hersh declined to comment for this article.
It is common for the district to allow its high school facilities to be used for certain events, such as recreational basketball leagues, Mr. Clemensen said. Whenever an organization utilizes a school facility, it must agree to a licensing agreement requiring that the applicant secure liability insurance. Also, the applicant is responsible for cleaning the property afterward and adhering to all school policies, including those that ban alcohol, tobacco and drugs.
Mr. Clemensen noted that it is common for people to park their cars in the lot to attend barbecues and graduation parties at nearby homes, so there’s no guarantee that all the cars were in the lot because of Rumba.
He also noted that the district’s signed agreement with Mr. Hersch specifies that only employees are permitted to use the lot because “with staff, there is not an ‘in and out,’” he wrote in an email. “[A]ll staff arrive together for a shift and leave together for a shift.”
He guessed that the Rumbus was making frequent trips from the school lot on that recent Saturday night to shuttle employees starting and ending their shifts. He also noted that he has never received a complaint from the community regarding Rumba using the high school lot.
“Someone could certainly contact us if they had an issue, and either I or [Business Administrator] Larry [Luce], or someone with our facilities, would get in touch with them,” he said.
Argonne Road resident Elena Yannucci said she sees the Rumbus drive by her home frequently, but did not notice it shuttling people to and from the restaurant at all last summer. Ms. Yannucci said that at approximately 11:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 7, was the first time she noticed the Rumbus pull into the high school lot, which had roughly 10 cars parked in it at the time.
Ms. Yannucci said she enjoys the restaurant and occasionally walks there from her home on the corner of Argonne and Wakeman roads. She also noted that she doesn’t have a problem with employees parking there, but would have a problem if, in fact, customers are using the lot, too.
“I would not want them to bus the alcohol next door to me,” she said. “Employees are one thing if they are just coming and going from their shifts—customers are another.”
Another Argonne Road resident, who identified herself as Sarah but declined to share her last name, said she often sees cars that do not appear to be driven by restaurant employees entering and exiting the lot frequently on weekends. She also suspects that they belong to Rumba customers.
She also said it concerns her because she does not know how many of those using the lot had alcoholic drinks with their dinner.
“I think they should really try to get their own parking,” she said, referring to Rumba. “It’s like they’re trying to find parking everywhere but on their own property.”
Other neighbors said they have not noticed any parking abnormalities in the high school lot, as the school is frequently being used for athletics throughout the year. And some who have seen the Rumbus picking up and dropping off people say they have no issue with it.
Seamus Ward, who lives on Argonne Road, near the Lynn Road intersection, said he realized when he purchased his home—which sits half a mile from Montauk Highway and a few blocks from the high school—that he would not be getting as much peace and quiet as he would like.
Personally, Mr. Ward said he would like for Mr. Hersh to encourage his employees and customers not to park their cars on the eastern end of Argonne Road, a practice that he said adds to the congestion when beachgoers park there, especially on the weekends.
He also credited Mr. Hersh for doing a good job of trying to be accommodating to the community.
“All around, I know he’s good for the town,” Mr. Ward said. “If they go to Rumba, they might go to another place in town. I’m pro-business.”
But others, namely those familiar with Rumba’s ability to skirt the town’s rules—pointing to the two-year stretch where Mr. Hersh was regularly out of compliance with the town’s parking and occupancy codes—are not so understanding.
“As soon as [an issue] settles down, it goes away for 10 minutes, then people stop paying attention, and David [Hersh] goes right back at it again,” Ms. Grube said.