Concerns Are Toned Down In Response To Toned-Down Music Law For East Hampton Bars

Gig Shack owner Tracey Gardell addresses the board - and the assembled crowd - in reference to the proposed legislation regarding live music in East Hampton Town during the East Hampton Town Board meeting at Town Hall on Thursday night, 1-16-20

Musicians and bar owners, for the most part, offered more tempered criticisms of a tailored version of East Hampton Town’s live music permit law than their outrage last spring — though some still worried that its provisions would hamper businesses that host live music.

With substantial changes made to the proposed amendments since last spring’s first hearing on the revisions, musicians and their advocates said the law looms much less ominously over any live performance at a bar or restaurant.

Some who had been strident critics, and who had accused the board of threatening the very existence of live music events in the town less than a year ago, at a public hearing on Thursday, January 16, applauded the revised legislation — at least to a certain extent.

“We’ve come so far from the original proposed bill,” singer Nancy Atlas told the Town Board on Thursday, referring to the amended legislation. “It’s very satisfying to have been heard.”

But Ms. Atlas, a professional musician who organized a throng of critics to protest the original bill last March, said there are still some aspects of the amended law that concern her.

Like others who have critiqued the legislation as it evolved, Ms. Atlas asked that the board not include sections of the state fire safety code in the list of violations that would allow the town to consider revoking a business’s music permit.

Such codes should be being enforced diligently at all businesses and have no direct connection to musical performances, Ms. Atlas said. Linking them to the music permit criteria, she said, seems to serve only as an added arrow in the town’s quiver for targeting a business deemed problematic.

The current proposal, as laid out by Assistant Town Attorney Nancylynn Thiele, links two chapters of the state fire safety code — those having to do with entrances and exits to buildings, and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors — to the music law, along with the chapters of town code regarding noise violations and overcrowding, which are the most common issues raised by live music events.

The law says that if a business is cited and ultimately convicted of violating the relevant code requirements three times in the same year, its music permit will be revoked for the coming season.

The revised amendments vastly dialed back the threat to a business from last spring, but some still saw issues with them.

“The fire code chapters are too broad,” said Sarah Conway, a singer and resident of Montauk, where the vast majority of live music venues in the town are located. “It should stick to the major public safety issues listed by the fire marshal.”

Paul Monte addresses the board in reference to the proposed legislation regarding live music in East Hampton Town during the East Hampton Town Board meeting.

Town Fire Marshal David Browne penned a letter to the Town Board earlier this winter with a list of specific fire safety failures that he thought should be linked to music permits, because they could pose a specific elevated threat to a large crowd drawn to a musical performance.

But Town Board members have said that they found trying to specify particular lines of the code to be rife with missed details and a legally wobbly foundation for a key law.
When the Town Board initially introduced revisions to the music permit law last winter, the proposal put a business’s music permit in jeopardy if the bar or restaurant received just two summonses for violations of almost any town or state code in a three-year period.
Musicians and bar owners said that such provisions would essentially bring an end to most live music performances at bars and restaurants.

As the town revised the proposed legislation over the last several months, the threshold was changed to three convictions of violations in a single year, and board members trimmed the list of violations that would apply to only those regarding noise and public safety.

Paul Monte, chairman of the town’s Business Advisory Committee, which had worked with the town attorney’s office on the revisions, said that the proposed law needs only a few finer points put on some of its provisions.

“We are happy to see that many of our initial suggestions are incorporated into this draft,” Mr. Monte said. “We believe this is very close to being very good and acceptable legislation. But we think a few more tweaks will be necessary to get it across the finish line.”

Mr. Monte said that the board needs to determine what agency within the town will be responsible for arbitrating the revocation of permits, since the law stipulates that a revoked permit will be subject to a review and consideration of circumstances that could mean a recurring problem may be solved going forward.

The board has discussed whether to designate the existing Licensing Review Board, which reviews and can revoke town licenses issued to trade contractors and taxi cabs, and whether that board would have to be expanded by adding members familiar with the food and beverage business.

The current law makes no specific designation of a reviewing agency, and some speakers on Thursday voiced concerns that the reviews may land in the laps of the same code enforcement officers who issued the tickets, and said that officers should not be both prosecution and jury.

Attorney Tina Piette asked why the code specifically outlaws a music permit holder from being “a music venue.” Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said that provision was intended to ensure a bar or restaurant that asks for a permit to have live music remains a bar or restaurant first and not simply a venue for musical performances.

A Springs resident, David Buda, agreed with others that tying fire code violations to a music permit is inappropriate and said that using the threat of a State Liquor Authority review of a liquor license would be a wise way to force miscreant businesses into compliance.

He suggested that the town also look for ways to impose fines on businesses that chronically violate ordinances far beyond the $1,000 statutory maximum — which town officials have lamented that many businesses simply pay and allow the violations to continue — rather than use the revocation of a music permit as a threat.

Tracey Gardell, owner of the popular restaurant and bar 668 The Gig Shack said she feared that the law would still threaten her business, if only because relatively minor violations related to music laws could easily become major concerns if the New York State Liquor Authority were to become involved.

“The way the laws are structured, you get violations and they get reported to multiple agencies,” said Ms. Gardell, whose restaurant has live music most nights in summer. “You are probably closing The Shack this season, because I cannot sustain the violations. We’ve been a big part of the community, and we are going to miss you.”