Overhauled East Hampton Music Law Wins Applause From Musicians And Business Owners

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Trombone Shorty performing at the Surf Lodge in Montauk in 2016.

Popular local singer-songwriter Nancy Atlas noted with painful irony last week that East Hampton Town seems to finally be ready to sign into law retooled codes regulating live musical performances at time when musicians and the bars and restaurants that are allowed to host them under the law are out of business entirely.

But in applauding the extensive overhauling of the law for which she herself mustered an uproar over more than a year ago, Ms. Atlas said she hoped the Town Board would put its focus on finding ways to help musicians get back on their feet soon.

“Getting to the finish line on this legislation now seems somewhat ironic since 100-percent of local musicians and restaurants are struggling right now,” Ms. Atlas told Town Board members during a call-in public hearing being streamed live on East Hampton’s public access television channel, LTV. “I hope an equal amount of energy is put toward helping our artists and musicians survive. When I look back at the last year and a half, there was an enormous amount of energy toward making sure that music stays in line, and right now there are literally people who have no work. I’d like to put your focus toward getting them back to work.”

Ms. Atlas proposed that the town allow drive-in concerts in large open spaces like the Navy Road area as a way of getting musicians back to work with their usual places of business — restaurants, bars and nightclubs — likely remaining shuttered or greatly limited in their capacity by the coronavirus protocols for weeks still to come.

Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said that the town will be looking for ways to help local businesses maximize their profits this summer, especially in the restaurant and entertainment industries that have been the most broadly affected by the epidemic.

“There’s going to be a lot of pent up energy,” he said. “We’re going to have to remain somewhat flexible moving forward to support our local businesses.”

Ms. Atlas’s pitch came as the Town Board held up what would seem likely to be the last in a long list of changes over the last 12 months to the music law since the first proposal of amendments to the code drew the ire of musicians and bar owners for being far too punitive to their industries in the name of reining in a few venues that had repeatedly flouted town codes.

The proposed law, which the Town Board is expected to vote on later this month, eased the demands of an earlier version on restaurant and bar owners’ compliance with a broad array of town codes in order to be allowed to host live music. The final version of the law will include just tree chapters of the town noise, fire and safety codes among those that may be counted as black marks against a venue’s music permit if violated. The issues of concern in the law focus on excessive noise, overcrowding and fire safety features of the buildings like sprinkler systems and emergency exits.

If a bar or restaurant — the music permit law does not apply to “nightclubs” like the Stephen Talkhouse — is found guilty of three violations in a single year, its permit will be revoked and it will have to reapply.

The final version of the law creates a new review committee that will be the arbiter of permit applications and renewals, comprised of the three chairmen of the town’s main regulatory boards: the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Planning Board and the Architectural Review Board.

“Those individuals seem well versed in reviewing applications and mitigating circumstances and so forth,” said Assistant Town Attorney Nancylynn Thiele. “And also they are familiar with land use and are independent from any enforcement actions.”

Ms. Atlas and others who worked with the town said they were happy with the end result, as a law that evolved from onerous to fair, thanks to the Town Board’s willingness to compromise.

“We just want fairness,” said musician Joe Lauro of the band The Hoodoo Loungers. “I think you’ve come a long way toward that end, and I thank you.”

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