A Chorus of Nays on Music Permit Proposal

As proposed changes are written, said Nancy Atlas, a Montauk musician, a business could lose its music entertainment permit for reasons unrelated to noise, such as parking or overcrowding. Doug Kuntz

Nearly 40 local musicians and owners of music venues told the East Hampton Town Board Thursday that proposed amendments to town code governing the issuance and potential revocation of music entertainment permits are draconian, mean-spirited, and even cruel and unusual.

But as Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said before the first had delivered remarks, many of their concerns "may not be founded."

Proposed amendments would make music entertainment permits valid for one year, when they currently renew automatically, and would allow the town clerk to deny approval of a permit based on two or more prior convictions relating to any section of town code pertaining to music entertainment, fire prevention, special events, noise, or zoning within the previous 36 months. Applicants could appeal, but only in writing and within 30 days of the denial, to a committee comprising emergency management, Building Department and Code Enforcement, and fire and police officials.

Also added is the decree that a permit does not confer an additional or accessory use, or expansion of an existing or accessory use. Another change would require presentation of a certificate of occupancy or other evidence that a restaurant or bar is an approved use of the property, and information as to whether an establishment's owner has been convicted of any violation of town code in the prior 36 months. Current rules stipulate 18 months without a code violation conviction. Establishments seeking music entertainment permits would have to provide a floor and seating plan including the location of the entertainment. Lastly, the proposed revisions include the provision that the permits may be subject to a fee, and the board may establish or amend that amount. Music permits are now free; a proposed schedule sets a $100 fee starting next year.

The town board's discussion prompted pushback long before the hearing, with musicians and business interests taking to social media and mailing lists to exhort those who might be affected to make their voices heard. And for some two hours, they did.

Many in the contingent that spoke to the board are Montauk residents. The proposed legislation, said Lynn Blumenfeld, a vocalist and business owner, "feels really anti-Montauk." The hamlet, she noted, now attracts national touring artists. "Montauk's got crowds," she said. "We're not going to get rid of the crowds," but local people and businesses will be hurt, she said, if restaurants and bars that host live music are no longer permitted to do so.

As written, said Nancy Atlas, another Montauk musician, a business could lose its music entertainment permit for reasons unrelated to noise, such as parking, overcrowding, or "if your dishwasher . . . goes on a bender and gets a D.W.I."

Mr. Van Scoyoc said that was not accurate, but Ms. Atlas said that she would take whatever recourse necessary should the laws be amended and result in a loss of performance opportunities.

"I see and have respect for where this comes from," Inda Eaton said of the proposed amendments, but added that the board should beware of unintended consequences. She and others said that an unelected committee charged with reviewing appeals of a permit's denial should concern everyone.

Ellen Dioguardi said that "live music invigorates the local economy," benefiting not just venues and performers but other businesses. Extolling the positive attributes of music, she asked, rhetorically, "Why don't we outlaw sunsets? . . . What are we thinking? Let's embrace our legendary local talent."

Ralph Pericelli of Montauk, a retired New York City firefighter who plays in two bands, recalled the Concert for New York City, held weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack in New York City, in which many of his colleagues were killed. "We felt alive that night," he said. The clients he works with as a mental health counselor are uplifted by music, he said. "It saddens me that we are talking about restricting or even stopping music."

Dianne Leverrier, an attorney and amateur musician, told the board that the proposed legislation does not comply with New York State law and would result in lengthy legal challenges. Another attorney, Deborah Choron of Montauk, said that the proposed amendments "will not solve any of Montauk's problems. Rather, giving the clerk such broad discretion . . . will be disastrous." The town clerk, she said, could cherry-pick businesses for approval or denial of a permit. "This law's vagueness is susceptible to constitutional challenge," she said. "Ultimately, if enacted, every single business will be under the thumb of the town clerk and committee." The proposals are misguided and will not have their intended outcome, she said.

"Is live music really the big problem in this town," asked Thomas Muse, "when I see direct sewage being discharged on the beach?" The proposal is "a cold shower on the short-term seasonal economy in this tourist town," he said.

On and on it went, the supervisor, who is also a musician, sometimes exchanging asides with speakers with whom he has performed. Laraine Creegan, executive director of the Montauk Chamber of Commerce, called the proposal "one more example of government overreach for no apparent reason. We feel it is unfair to the businesses and local musicians affected." Paul Monte, chairman of the town's business advisory committee, said that the summer season is too close at hand to change the rules now.

Before the last notes of outrage had subsided, Mr. Van Scoyoc told the gathering that, "We all value live music in East Hampton," including his colleagues on the board. "We have no intention of shutting it down. We've heard you loud and clear that you have concerns. . . . We're not going to let that happen."

Later, he mused that the town might benefit from a committee comprising musicians, akin to the East Hampton Arts Council. "I respect everyone in the room for coming out. Your views on these may be slightly different from my own," he said, but the meeting had provided "a really good opportunity to recognize the importance of music in our lives, in our town, and we will certainly consider all those."

Contrary to several accusations made earlier in the evening, the board "had no intention of voting on this tonight," he said. "We will certainly take up the issue again at a work session." The board, he said, would endeavor to "figure out how can do what we need to do to address the concerns we have without harming those who may be affected in a collateral way."