Social media here blew up over the weekend after photographs were posted of for-profit companies setting out beach chairs and umbrellas for later-arriving customers. At Indian Wells, an observer was incensed enough that he folded up one firm’s chairs into a stack on the sand while the attendants weren’t looking, and East Hampton Town Marine Patrol had to get involved.
Beach-amenities services would appear to require a permit from the town or villages. However, with so many miles of shoreline and limited awareness among caterers and others, the rules are routinely ignored. And the law in East Hampton Town as it pertains to this newer sort of service is a little vague.
By the book, so-called special event permits are needed for most things out of the ordinary. This includes providing services for a fee. But the section of the rules dealing with such things on public lands should be sharpened. Under the portion dealing with beaches, selling goods — including food, — unless by a charity or during a permitted catered event is specifically prohibited. But services are not mentioned. Muddying the waters, the law says that any assembly on parks and beaches for which participants have paid has to originate from a sale or sign-up elsewhere, such as over the internet, we suppose.
So are the beach chairs and umbrellas allowed or are they not? It is confusing and has led to the current situation in which the rules are out of step with ordinary beachgoers’ irritation.
Pushback could be substantial if the town takes steps to limit the commercial use of beaches, and not just from the operators of these V.I.P. chair-and-umbrella services. Oceanfront hotels and clubs have all but cordoned off sections of the shore; others, even some situated a block or two inland, without direct beach access, have begun doing the same.
Sadly, it is obvious where this is headed: Unless the town trustees and town board take definitive action, private commerce will only increase on our beaches. Slipping around the law by conducting their transactions online, more service providers will seek to get a piece of the action, leading to more bad feelings and conflicts between operators and beachgoers. A top priority should be clarifying the town code to specifically require permits for any commercial activity or service whatsoever. As it stands now, the law may be too fuzzy to enforce. The beaches are all but sacred around these parts. They are not the place to conduct business.