To Protest At Festival

October 10, 1996

   In under a week, East Hampton Village streets will be swarming with film buffs eager to sample the Hamptons International Film Festival's 1996 offerings. But as the crowd appears, the East End Disabilities Group plans to grab its attention - not with a cinematic event but with a protest aimed at three restaurants owned in part by the festival's chairwoman, Toni Ross.
   The group sees public protest as its only option, short of legal action, to get the restaurants to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, a Federal law passed in 1990 that guarantees the disabled access to public facilities, a spokesman said.
   "We regret that it's come to this, but if this is what it takes to get the law adhered to, this is what we have to do," said Glen Hall, the group's chairman.

Nick And Toni's

   The festival's opening and closing night parties are being held at Nick and Toni's, which is one of East Hampton's most stylish restaurants. It, and the Honest Diner on the Montauk Highway in Amagansett, are owned by Ms. Ross and her husband, Jeff Salaway. Rowdy Hall, which is off Main Street in East Hampton near the United Artist theaters where most of the films are being shown, is owned by Mr. Salaway and Mark Smith.
   The owners acknowledge that some of the group's concerns are valid and have pledged to take steps to remedy the problems. Neverthelss, the protest is scheduled to go forward.
   Mr. Hall said he expected participants from across the East End to talk to film-goers and pass out leaflets.

Group's Mission

   "The protest is not our goal," said Mr. Hall. "Our goal is to make the East End accessible for people with disabilities." The group's mission, said Mr. Hall, "is not us against them - in a moment anybody can become disabled - it's about civil rights."
   The Disabilities Group already has fought successfully to gain accessibility to East Hampton's United Artists Cinema. It has also won access for the disabled to a number of other entertainment venues.
   Commenting on the forthcoming protest, Mr. Salaway said, "That's okay. Honestly, if the festival creates an opportunity for them to get their issues out there, in a way, that's a good thing. That's part of what the festival is all about, as long as anyone isn't singled out unfairly. I can't imagine we're the only people they have problems with."

Makeshift Plywood Ramp

   There are numerous restaurants here, Mr. Hall said, that are not in compliance with the law. The shortfalls at Nick and Toni's and Rowdy Hall are minor, but still important, said Gerry Mooney, a member of the group.
   At the recently renovated Rowdy Hall in the heart of the village, he cited a makeshift plywood ramp at the doorway and alleged there were no bars to aid the handicapped in the restrooms.
   "In rebuilding, we did a lot of things to accommodate the handicapped so they can enjoy our restaurant," Mr. Smith said. He agreed the ramp was a problem, but said an improved one, of cement, would go in within the next few weeks. The rest rooms are in compliance, however, he said.

Adhere To Mandates

   Village Mayor Paul Rickenbach Jr., notified of the group's complaints about Rowdy Hall, said he had discussed the matter with the new building inspector, Tom Lawrence, and its outgoing one, Donald Bennett. "Mr. Lawrence has only been with us for a week and has a full plate," Mr. Rickenbach said. "The larger picture is . . . the village is certainly going to adhere to the mandates."
   Nick and Toni's and the Honest Diner are in town jurisdiction. Mr. Salaway said he had been unaware that its parking spaces for the handicapped were not clearly marked. "That's easily remedied," he said.
   The Disabilities Group also charges the restaurant has too few such parking spaces and claims the lip of the ramp leading to the front door is difficult for a person in a wheelchair to negotiate. Again sounding a note of conciliation, Mr. Salaway said, "If there's a problem with it, we can certainly take a look at that."

Three-Year Effort

   The group has been "after the Honest Diner for about three years," Mr. Mooney said. Mr. Salaway said he was aware of that, but he noted that the A.D.A. was not law when the diner opened in 1992.
   "There seems to be some difference of interpretation as to what the code is," he said.
   "A person in a wheelchair should be able to get out of their car, to the front door, through the door that is not at too sharp an angle, and once inside should be able to use the bathrooms. It's as simple as that," Richard Rosenthal, of the Town Disabilities Advisory Board, said.
   According to the Federal requirements, any commercial enterprise that has been renovated since 1993 or received site plan approval for renovations since 1992 is supposed to provide a path for the disabled, adequate parking, and bathrooms that are wheelchair accessible, he said.

State Code

   The town enforces the state building code, not Federal regulations, said Fred Sellers, the building inspector. "The state has only adopted a certain portion of the A.D.A. requirements," he added, saying that the Honest Diner was in compliance with state law.
   While the group has given the Town Building Department copies of A.D.A, he said, "we can't force the local people to do all of them." Nevertheless, Mr. Salaway said, providing a ramp was doable, and he said the diner had an accessible bathroom. Although it is used by employees, he said, it was available for the disabled.
   "We've been 'yessed' to death. Other businesses, the movie theaters, the hospital, have all been willing to make the necessary changes. They haven't even bothered to get back to us," Mr. Hall said.