The Code Breakers

By Richard Rosenthal

If you happen to be curious about the state of disabilities-access code enforcement in East Hampton Town, I suggest you drop by Solé East, formerly the Shepherd’s Neck Inn, on Second House Road in Montauk. Drive a block along the side of the building closest to Montauk Highway and turn left onto South Easton Place, a neglected little street that runs behind Solé East’s high back fence. There, in a nook among small trees, you will find a handicapped-reserved parking sign and perhaps a small car parked by it.

The space is a fake. When I last saw it on March 27 of this year, the ground was too soft to ensure safe car exit and movement by a person dependent on a wheelchair or walker. There were also no accessible paths of travel to Solé East’s entrance.

This wildly nonconforming slice in the woods was the only designated handicapped-reserved spot I could find at or near the hotel among four parking areas with room for about 60 vehicles. No spaces at all were reserved for people with disabilities. New York State law requires that at least four be surfaced, striped, and signed in accordance with the law. The town’s own disabilities law, enacted in 2002, probably requires this as well.

One might ask why do I, a disabled man of 92, care about access to a hotel nightclub. Well, I was unable to attend the memorial service that was held in Solé East for my friend David Hartstein, who died several years ago. I couldn’t park there and get myself to the building.

The Americans With Disabilities Act and New York State’s disabilities codes are designed to provide such access, because they improve a disabled person’s opportunity to be self-reliant, which in turn reduces the devaluing of disabled individuals and the large taxpayer expenditure required by a dependent culture. These laws also help local businesses by encouraging disabled people to get out and shop. It’s a win-win all around.

David, a fine chiropractor, had contributed to my self-sufficiency. His death at 35 was a tragedy for his family and a wound to the town. I should have been there. But, unable to park and access the building, all I could do was turn around and leave.

And yes, my ego is also involved. Having spent 10 years as the town disabilities rights advocate, I don’t enjoy watching the considerable progress we made disappearing as if it had been dropped into the top of Vesuvius.

The town board’s indulgence of such violations has been enduring and bipartisan. Over the past decade, as the raucous summer scene has risen to overwhelm Montauk, three successive administrations, under Supervisors McGintee, Wilkinson, and Cantwell, have promised a strict enforcement of applicable codes to control the noise, public drunkenness, pedestrian road clogging, and inaccessibility for disabled people, including of course disabled war veterans.

At Solé East, we have an example of what really has, or, more aptly, has not happened with these pledges. Solé East, open since 2006, as of late March 2018 has yet to come up with the blue paint, signs, and an hour or two of modest labor to produce four usable, legally required handicapped-accessible parking spaces.

Perhaps Solé East and other code-defying hangouts feel enabled to shrug off access requirements because that is what the very court charged with enforcing these laws is itself doing and has been since it opened in 2010.

I am not nitpicking here. The East Hampton Justice Court’s eight-years-long display of its own noncompliance with laws it requires others to obey has a grandeur to it — an awe-inspiring chutzpah that punches you right in the face.

The court’s two designated handicapped-reserved spaces are located in a notch in a rear corner of the building. There is no accessible route from this area to the court’s entrance. There is no curb cut to allow one to wheel onto the sidewalk and proceed in safety to the court’s entrance. In fact, it is virtually impossible for disabled persons with or without a wheelchair or walker to ascend to the sidewalk at all, even to be pushed up to it, because the sidewalk is a stunning seven inches above the street. 

This is more than 10 times the Americans With Disabilities Act’s maximum acceptable street-to-sidewalk rise of five-eighths of an inch. As a result, wheelchair and walker users must push their way to the court entrance through the street, sometimes in the face of oncoming vehicles that might be making a 90-degree turn and moving right at them.

And, if you happen to enjoy irony, it gets even better. Throughout these many years, a quick, inexpensive solution has been in plain view. Ample space for more general and handicapped-reserved parking is waiting to be used on the court’s spacious, level, easily reachable Pantigo Road side of the building.

The town board and court cannot be unaware of these conditions. They are too stark. And I for one informed the Disabilities Advisory Board and the town board of them and the ready solution back in 2011, and the town board again, several times since, most recently in 2016. I’ve also periodically written of it in articles and letters to The Star.

How come these many years of procrastination and illegality by a Montauk hotel and by our town and court? We are losing something here. Something civilized and honorable. Something that has allowed us to use the word “community” when we speak about our town and our country.

Richard Rosenthal has two Battle Stars from World War II and promises not to go gentle into that good night.