The sounds of summer may be far from the minds of most, but Montaukers who showed up at a Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting earlier this month are still significantly miffed about a backlog of noise complaints accrued in the hamlet’s high season. As the once sleepy Podunk continues to surge in popularity, visitors continue to pour in, and nightclubs and entertainment spots, particularly those situated in residential areas, are placing an auditory strain on residents.
At the CAC meeting, where East Hampton town attorney John Jilnicki appeared to quell concerns with the promise of potentially Montauk-specific overhaul to the town code, a significant crowd of concerned citizens turned up to tune the attorney in on what is really going on at The End. Historically, they said, party hosts have chosen to pooh-pooh the provisions of mass gathering permits issued to control potentially dangerous overcrowding, and the resultant overflow of noise, waste, and bacchanalias turned some neighborhoods into summertime circuses.
The best known of these incidents, the Shark Attack Sounds event, hosted by Hamptons socialite and photographer Ben Watts, the brother of actress Naomi Watts. The explosive growth of the annual party, which started as a gathering of a few dozen people on a beach 11 years ago, illustrates the problem modern Montauk is facing.
In 2011, The New York Times reported that the party, which was relocated in recent years to Rick’s Crabby Cowboy Café on East Lake Drive, drew 1,000 guests and raged until 4 a.m. the following morning. This past summer, code enforcement officers shut the party down, citing noise violations and a failure to adhere to a mass gathering permit issued for 800 people. Some estimates said as many as 3,000 revelers had shown up on the property, and the area was so crowded that an ambulance was unable to respond to a call on East Lake Drive. (The patient was eventually transported by a squad car to meet the ambulance on Montauk Highway.)
Still, the party organizers seemed pleased as punch with Watts’ girlfriend, Jeanann Williams, was quoted as saying that Shark Attack Sounds gets “bigger and better each year.” The event has achieved legendry status—but among many residents, it is legendary for reasons far from those Watts had intended.
While Jilnicki intimated that revisions to the code would take place, fed-up homeowners made note that offenders who have repeatedly violated the present code have not been brought to justice. Adjudicating these matters is a time-consuming process, noted the town attorney. And it is apparently a process that does little for the people whose lives are affected by noise.
Residents of the Shepherd’s Neck area of Montauk have been particularly hard hit by the tides of change. Gripes about live music from Solé East resort are a constant for those who live in the area. Dave Ceva, an owner at the property, has made every effort to make nice with the neighbors, but anything short of cutting out the music—a consistent and obviously vital component to his business—means some noise will persist.
The Shepherd’s Neck problem has particularly been exacerbated for residents of Second House Road, who have dealt with everything from noise to public urination on a regular basis in the summer months, which some say is related to the crowds at Ruschmeyer’s. The bold private property signage that at least one homeowner has taken to decorating the lawn with is hardly attractive, but also an apparent necessity.
A mild silver lining offering the possibility of at least a temporary reprieve for those neighbors is the recent rumor suggesting that Ruschmeyer’s may be closed for good. The scuttlebutt suggests, however, that the closure is the result of a rent dispute and has nothing to do with violations in noise the business may have racked up in the summer.
In an enclave where residents are no strangers to live music—hell, The Rolling Stones used to tear it up out here, back in the day—it begs the question whether things have really changed so much for the worse. But something most certainly has changed.
Jimmy Barnes, a retired Montauk restaurateur whose last go at the industry included a bar called Lakeside, which was sold and reincarnated under new ownership as The Surf Lodge, mused over the situation during a dinner with friends last week. Despite the revelry that occurred at the popular spot in the days when he owned it, he said the establishment never had any problems with noise or complaints from neighbors—certainly, none such as these.