I realize that construction noise is a necessary evil, but it’s unacceptable when there’s virtually no respite from the noise for nearly a year.
I have the misfortune of being sandwiched between two substantial Montauk renovations where armies of contractors arrive at both locations promptly at 7 a.m. every day of the week including Sundays and work as late as 8:30 p.m., all permissible under current town statutes. Holidays are no exception. The onslaught has been ongoing for eight months; that’s 94.5 hours of construction noise each week, every week for nearly 250 consecutive days with no sign of abatement.
Some might not be concerned about changing town codes to prevent this type of thing because they haven’t experienced the distress it can cause, but they may in the future. As the character Buford Pusser said in the 1973 motion picture “Walking Tall”: “If you let them do this to me [ripping off his shirt to reveal his scars from torture] and get away with it, then you’re giving them the eternal right to do the same damn thing to any one of you!”
Seventy-foot cranes swinging steel girders into place are not what you’d expect in Hither Hills, a neighborhood that was not so long ago predominantly made up of modest summer cottages on small lots passed down for generations. This magnitude of construction activity is happening all over Montauk. Very nice homes are being razed and new ones built to the thresholds of the town code or massively renovated, including houses built just a few years ago. Montauk has become the Dodge City of construction before Wyatt Earp arrived. It’s clear that the town code has not kept pace with the times and a new “sheriff” is desperately needed.
Of course, contractors don’t typically work at such sustained, breakneck speed, which suggests there are significant monetary incentives to do so. Not surprising since these are not cash-strapped buyers. One home was purchased for $2.2 million, the other $5.4 million, both in 2021 per Realtor.com. And they were not in a state of disrepair. Regardless, these homes have been completely gutted, one virtually demolished and rebuilt except for a grandfathered section to circumvent existing setbacks. Thirty-yard dumpsters are being filled weekly, sometimes daily, at each site. According to town statutes, full dumpsters can be picked up and empty ones delivered any time of day or night regardless of the noise they sometimes make in the wee hours of the night.
Contractor boomboxes and other such devices only add to the torment. They are so loud you can hear the music’s lyrics in your own home with all the windows closed. Yes, there are restrictions on decibel levels, but these audio devices probably fall below the statute limits. It’s not so much the volume as it is the incessant nature of the music from individuals who don’t even live in the community. It’s particularly irksome in an age of headphones and earbuds. In my nearly 50 years in the business world I never encountered anyone playing music aloud in the workplace simply because it was inconsiderate to neighbors. So why are contractors allowed to do so?
And what about unwitting summer renters who pay steep rental fees for the joy of being in a quiet beach community, only to find incessant contractor noise for 13 and a half hours every day of their stay?
The new owners of these two homes are, as you might guess, absent during the construction. It’s mainly the poor full-time residents who suffer. It’s time for town officials to step up to these issues by prohibiting work on Sundays, curtailing it on Saturdays; limiting daily construction work to eight to 10 hours including deliveries, with a start time no earlier than 8 a.m., and banning boomboxes from construction sites.
The town also needs to take into account the daily wear and tear on local roads as bigger construction projects require more and heavier trucks. Who will foot the bill for that? Are these large construction companies and the individuals who hire them paying fees to the town commensurate with the damage they do, or will our property taxes rise as a consequence?
This level of construction shows no sign of slowing as middle-class homeowners are forced or enticed to sell their homes and leave the communities they love, but we shouldn’t have to be tortured as we’re slowly run out of town.
I realize that this will upset the rich and powerful homeowners and construction companies, but it’s time for town government to address the changing times and represent us all.
Jeff Gewert is a frequent contributor of essays to various newspapers including USA Today and those owned by Hearst Media. A retired video writer, producer, and director, he lives in Montauk.