The beloved Ditch Plains surfing spot in Montauk, once ranked #9 in the country by Surfer magazine, is famous not only for the surfing but for the on-shore culture that accompanies it. There is a jetty that juts out into the ocean that creates the eastern wall of this surfing beach. There is the single-story 36-unit East Deck Motel, built in the 1950s by Sam and Bea Cox and operated until last summer by their descendants, where colorful beach towels often hang from the railings of the motel to signal there are surfers in residence. There is Lili Adams’ Ditch Witch mobile food wagon that serves smoothies and other healthy fare, and there’s the Beach Dog that serves burgers, fries and sodas. There are concrete benches on the beach itself to sit on and enjoy the goings-on. Off at the other end of the arc of the beach there are the cliffs that define the western border of the world of Ditch Plains. And beyond that is the United States of America.
Last summer, a corporation called ED40 LLC whose owners include Scott Bradley, a teacher at a surf paddling school here and Lars Svanberg, the owner of the Main Beach surf shop in East Hampton, bought the 6-acre oceanfront property of East Deck for $15 million. They soon announced plans to convert the motel into a private club. The motel units would be removed, the building enlarged to 12,242 square feet on two floors that would include spa facilities, event space, a new swimming pool, a lounge, lockers, a boardwalk a group of cabanas, a game room and, for the lucky members, a nice restaurant and beachfront café. Also there would be parking, some of it underground, for up to 100 cars for the members.
This project, designed by British architect David Adjaye, was not well received by many in the Montauk community. For one thing, East Deck Motel is the only commercial property within a mile of Ditch Plains. Behind it and along narrow streets on each side are private homes, one of which years ago had been a rooming house where Teddy Roosevelt once stayed when he and his Rough Riders (and the rest of the U. S. Army) camped in Montauk after the Spanish-American War.
Another problem is that the project would seem far too large to be put together by just a surf shop owner and a surf paddling school employee. For example, concurrently with their application for approval from the Town, the new owners spent millions of dollars to shore up the beachfront on both sides of the old jetty to keep the East Deck from being flooded or undermined by the sea. Clearly, the buyers have some deep-pocketed investor or investors, who surely would be involved with the ownership. Several publications, including The New York Times, have followed leads to who this might be that have brought them to the doorstep of J. Darius Bikoff, the multi-millionaire owner of Vitamin Water, and to Mike Repole, the billionaire founder of that company, but when approached, Repole said he has nothing to do with it.
It may not matter who is behind this, but the secrecy about it has compromised another aspect of the project, which is a fuller explanation of exactly what a “private club” on the ocean might be.
There is one called the Bathing Corp of Southampton, whose membership is almost entirely old-line families and their children, where there is almost no opportunity for anyone new to get in.
There is another on Gin Lane in Southampton called the Southampton Bath and Tennis Club which will accept entrants if they can pony up the thousands of dollars initiation fee.
On the other hand, in downtown Montauk, the former Ronjo Motel, which is a block from the ocean, was recently purchased, fixed up and changed into a public hotel called the Montauk Beach House. There is a restaurant, rooms for guests that are called boutique lodge rooms and a pool where non-guests can swim for a “club” fee. This has become a hotspot for the surfing and partying community.
The East Deck application has met huge resistance. Last Labor Day Weekend, 200 surfers went out to Ditch and protested the proposal. Then, late in the fall, the application for this project was postponed, so it could, reportedly, be scaled down. The latest news is that the East Deck Motel is being offered up for sale as-is for $25 million.
There are precedents for selling oceanfront commercial properties here. The Panoramic, a former oceanfront resort, was sold in 2006 for $32 million in Montauk at the height of the real estate bubble. The Panoramic in its pre-purchase configuration, however, had 117 rooms vs. the East Deck’s 36. It was and is a much larger property.
Other oceanfront properties, all larger than this one, have sold for more than $15 million. Gurney’s Inn in Montauk, with hundreds of rooms, sold in 2013 for $25 million. The Dune Deck Resort Motel in Westhampton Beach, also with hundreds of rooms, sold earlier this year for $19 million.
Now it turns out that ED40 LLC is talking to the Town of East Hampton about purchasing and saving the property. The town had the property appraised, which came back at $8 million, according to The East Hampton Star. They have asked for another appraiser to go out. Surely it would fetch more than that. If the Town and ED40 can come to terms, the town can use CPF money, the money raised by real estate transfer taxes, to make the purchase and save the place, but only up to the amount of the appraisal. If the price agreed upon is more than the appraisal, the town would need another party to purchase the property and then sell it back to the town for the appraised price.
In other surfing news—if you call this surfing news—the Surfrider Foundation has, together with an environmental organization called Defend H20, filed a lawsuit against the Town of East Hampton and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop the Army Corps’ massive beach project to protect Montauk’s downtown from being overwhelmed by the Atlantic Ocean.
The suit says this $9 million, half-mile long construction of an underground sandbag wall—from one end of downtown to the other—violates local ordinances, which prevent the use of “hardened” structures along the ocean. The law was written to prevent stone jetties and steel barriers on the beach.
The hamlet of Montauk was alarmed several years ago when, during two different storms, the ocean rose up at high tide to break over the existing dunes to begin to flood downtown. Only the emergency dispatch of payloaders and bulldozers were able to shore up these breaches and stop the flooding. The Town took this very seriously and appealed to the Army Corps, which agreed something would have to be done.
At the present time, Montauk remains unprotected. Studies suggest the underground sandbagging will solve the matter for many years to come.
No stop work order has accompanied this lawsuit, however, probably because no work has yet been done. All has been approved by the state and federal government, though, and a contractor has won the bidding. The plan last fall was to have it all in during this springtime of 2015.
But there’s been a delay. Montauk’s motel owners have gotten the Army Corps to agree not to do construction work on the ocean between May 22 and October 1, when the people are out there on their beach blankets. That would disturb the clientele. As a result, it seems increasingly likely that no work will take place until the fall, and then should be ready for 2016.
We say good luck, Montauk.