“Hannah honey was a peachy kind of girl./Her eyes were hazel/And her nose was slightly curved./We spent a lonely night at the Memory Motel./It’s on the ocean, I guess you know it well . . .”
Those are the opening lines of the Rolling Stones’ 1976 song “Memory Motel” about a one-night stand at the iconic Montauk night club/motel.
Over the past few years, the relationship between the current owners of Memory Motel and the East Hampton Town attorney’s office, as well as its code enforcement division, has been anything but a one-night stand. It has been a long, grueling series of court battles which finally, it appears, have reached a conclusion as of October 1.
On that day, with 125 East Hampton residents seated in the town’s justice court as perspective jurors, owners J. Patrick Kenny and Brian Kenny agreed in a private conference with town attorneys and Justice Steven Tekulsky to plead guilty to a simple violation involving a garbage receptacle, for which they would not be fined, in exchange for them obtaining site plan approval for an outdoor bar. The brothers had been facing two misdemeanor criminal charges regarding the lack of a site plan for it, as well as a picket fence corral in the parking lot, both erected every summer season since the owners took over the business. Neither the bar nor corral have ever been approved by the town’s planning board.
The Kennys, who own an LLC which manages the property, have been defiant over the years, flying bright yellow flags with the Revolutionary War slogan “Don’t Tread On Me” complete with coiled snake over the motel. They purchased the establishment in 2012 for $1.8 million, according to court documents. The brothers had leased Memory Motel, known locally as the Memory, from its previous owner with an option to buy about two years before making the purchase.
The town saw the corral area with its tables and chairs and the bar as an illegal expansion of the motel, which was built long before the town’s zoning code was written. The Kennys argued the town had given them permission to operate the business in that manner in 2010.
In 2012, when fights between the two sides began, fire marshals charged the owners with overcrowding, erecting the bar without a building permit or a certificate of occupancy, and fire code violations. A total of six charges were brought against the Kennys.
Last week, after the plea was entered, assistant town attorney NancyLynn Thiele, who joined the office in 2016, cited a chronology of events since those initial charges were brought.
In 2013, the Kennys pleaded guilty to two of the six charges made in 2012. They were fined and agreed to obtain a certificate of occupancy for the property.
The only obstacle to obtaining a new CO, Thiele said, was legalizing the bar. The brothers had a year to obtain it, which took them through the summer of 2013. Nothing happened.
The summer of 2014 came, and, once again, so, too, did the outdoor bar and corral, along with tables and chairs. Michael Sendlenski, then assistant attorney for the town, went to state court to get a temporary restraining order against Memory Motel. In December of that year, the judge on the case, state Supreme Court Justice William Rebolini, rejected the motion, finding the town “failed to make a prima facie showing that the defendants are in violation of town code.” After that, both sides appeared to have taken their eye off the case. The owners of the motel never responded, and the town failed to act, leading to dismissal of the charges in late 2017.
Instead, the town again brought the charges in 2015 to local justice court, which was to go to trial October 1, after four years of conferences and adjournments.
So, who won the marathon battle?
Well, the 125 East Hampton residents summoned to the courthouse last Tuesday for jury duty won’t have to respond in person to another summons for two years. The town gets what Thiele said it always wanted, compliance with the town’s zoning code. And the Kennys? They keep the right to claim that site plan approval is not needed; but, at the same time, must submit a new site plan that includes the outdoor bar to the town’s planning board. They must do so “diligently,” the agreement between the two sides reads, or “the outdoor bar must be removed, and use ceased immediately.”
“Been a lonely night at the Memory Motel,” the Rolling Stones song concludes.