Have Pity on Montauk

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Take a stroll down Main Street in Sag Harbor on just about any evening, and you are bound to find someone who wants to vent about the crowds. The crowds that make it hard to find a parking space, let alone drive through town. The crowds that make it hard to find a seat in restaurant. The crowds that make a wait for an ice cream cone seem interminable, for crying out loud.

But if you think it is bad here, drive about 20 miles east to Montauk, where drunken patrons spilling out of the Surf Lodge make driving down Edgemere Street a game of chicken. Swing down Emerson Avenue and ask yourself why anyone would wait in line to enter a place called the Sloppy Tuna. If you want to feel crowded, stop by the Harbor Raw Bar and Lounge, near the docks, where East Hampton Town officials have charged that more than 300 people were routinely squeezing into a building with a capacity of only 68.

It’s a far cry from the days 25 years ago, when locals used to shake their heads and complain that Montauk, once the vacation refuge of working class families, had gone “honky tonk.”

Last week, facing a growing chorus of complaints from frustrated residents, the East Hampton Town Board promised to take action.

It will hold a hearing on a proposed ban of parking near the Surf Lodge, where cars routinely block the shoulder, forcing pedestrians waiting for cabs or walking to their cars to stand in traffic.

The board also agreed to hold a hearing next month to consider revoking the music permit of Ciao by the Beach, which has been cited for numerous noise complaints this year. And the town is also considering a law that would require bars and night clubs to install mechanical counting devices to make sure they do not exceed their capacity.

Other measures on the docket include a possible banning of the consumption of alcohol on public beaches in Montauk, tightening of public assembly laws, and even a second look at a rental registry law to try to control illegal share houses that was put aside last year when it received a lukewarm reception from the public.

But East Hampton is finding it is difficult to push the genie back into the bottle once it has been released. Decades of catering to businesses providing the kind of nightlife the hamlet is trying to rein in has exacted a toll. Sag Harbor, and other villages, that hope to retain their way of life, would do well to take notice.

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