The East Hampton Town Board agreed unanimously March 12 to retain Steven Stern of the Stern Sokoloff law firm, at a cost of up to $20,000, to investigate and analyze the settlement struck between the East Hampton Town Attorney’s office and owner of Duryea’s in Montauk, Marc Rowan. Rowan, a billionaire investor, bought the complex in 2014.
Less than 24 hours before the board announced the hiring of Stern, Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc had stood firmly behind the settlement, saying it did not in any way provide an easier path to Rowan being able to legalize his restaurant. He also said that Rowan still needed full site-plan approval.
After purchasing the properties that make up the Duryea’s complex, Rowan had attempted to get site-plan approval for a new restaurant on the site that would hold up to 350 people at a time. When it became clear that the application would face stiff opposition from the town’s planning department, as well as from the planning board, the application was withdrawn, and Rowan eventually took the town to court.
The settlement allows Rowan to continue operating a restaurant, Duryea’s Lobster Deck, on the site, without calling it a restaurant, by allowing waiter service for any assistance needed by customers. At the same time, the settlement calls on the town to “expedite” the new site plan before the town’s planning board for a restaurant at Duryea’s. In addition to the $20,000 being spent on Stern’s services, another attorney, Dave Arnsten, has been brought in to advise the planning board on how to proceed.
Elements of the stipulation, which was signed twice by Michael Sendlenski as town attorney and respondent, as well as Rowan and his attorney, Michael Walsh, drew a firestorm of criticism from the public as well as East Hampton Town Councilman Jeffrey Bragman.
“I just want to say that I had an opportunity to talk to both Michael Sendlenski and the town board,” Bragman said, indicating that they are now unified in their path forward. “We are better served by getting independent counsel,” he added.
Three of the five town attorneys recused themselves from the matter for a variety of reasons, leaving John Jilnicki and Sendlenski to handle the matter. Then, on March 6, just hours before the planning board meeting, Jilnicki recused himself. Documents show that Jilnicki worked for the Duryea’s organization from May 1998 to March 1999 n a site plan that sought to legalize a concrete breakwater upon which a deck had been built.
In 1997, the East Hampton Zoning Board of Appeals found that there was no history of an ongoing restaurant on the site, meaning there was no right for whomever the owners of Duryea’s Dock were to operate a restaurant without obtaining a permit from the town, which has never been done.
Van Scoyoc served on the ZBA when it issued that ruling, as did current Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and Amagansett resident Phil Gamble, who ended up serving 28 years on the zoning board, including 12 as chairman. The 1997 decision was written by Richard Whalen, a longtime attorney who is responsible for some of the language in East Hampton Town’s zoning code.
In a March 17 interview, Edna “Cookie” McGlynn, who has lived at 138 Tuthill Road for all of her 81 years, said “There was never a wait staff. Nobody served you.” Instead, she said, customers went to the counter, bought their food, and sat down at a table to eat it.
Her husband, Jim McGlynn, said all that changed within the past year or so. “Look at the prices. They are charging $38 for a
lobster roll,” he said.
Parking now is a major issue, with cars parking all the way down the road toward the Montauk train station. The McGlynns both described the current situation as “a zoo.” They said that people walking in the road have created a dangerous situation. The McGlynns also lamented that the parking lot was installed on wetlands.
They both said that neighbors have called the police to complain about the overcrowding, but say that nothing ever happens. They point out that the owners of the property have always been politically connected. Former owner Perry Duryea was a New York State Assemblyman from 1965 until 1978, eventually becoming speaker.
Tuthill Road is a narrow, private road which winds from Duryea’s uphill to the east and then to the south. The expansive McGlynn property directly overlooks Duryea’s. On the property are two cottages. One of them, Cookie McGlynn said, was the mess kitchen for Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. Some 20,000 soldiers encamped on the properties surrounding the McGlynn residence after the Spanish-American War in 1898.
“This whole hill, this whole road. This was a tent city,” Jim McGlynn said. “This is history. That is why it is all so important.”