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Jul 21, 2009 5:18 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Surf Lodge under heat from county and locals

Jul 21, 2009 5:18 PM

Last Sunday night in Montauk, as the sun sank over Fort Pond leaving behind a stratum of pink clouds, hundreds of tanned bodies swayed on the Surf Lodge deck as Donovan Frankenreiter, a professional surfer from California, and his band performed an intimate show—with no cover charge.

Mr. Frankenreiter, who is often associated with his good friend and fellow surfer, the wildly successful musician Jack Johnson, had drawn a huge crowd. Close to 200 cars lined the narrow shoulders of Edgemere and Industrial roads along Fort Pond, the women’s bathroom line was long, the throngs of people on the deck were hard to move through, and yet no one seemed to care as they laughed, danced and bobbed, imbibing the salty breeze, the mellow music and their cocktails.

It was a standard Sunday night at the Surf Lodge—a hotel, restaurant and nightclub that opened last summer. Saturday and Sunday concerts, bringing acts like Stephen and Julian Marley, are free. The establishment is the kind of place that’s either loved or hated, as it has inspired both happiness, from its patrons, and ire from some Montauk locals who have condemned the annoyance and dangers of endless cars parked along their roads and who fear that the overcrowded club will eventually pollute Fort Pond, a freshwater fish and wildlife habitat.

Locals’ concerns have been officially validated as on June 27, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services charged the Surf Lodge with four food service violations, according to Chris Sortino, the chief of the Suffolk County Bureau of Public Health. A hearing was scheduled for Tuesday, July 28, at the Health Department’s offices in Hauppauge at 11:30 a.m.

Jamie Mulholland, a co-owner of the Surf Lodge, said in a phone interview on Tuesday that he understands locals’ frustration, as he hails from a little community in Capetown, South Africa, where the locals similarly fought development and change.

“I get it and it’s their right to complain,” Mr. Mulholland said. “We’re not thumbing our nose at any of these agencies. Basically, the Surf Lodge is compliant and wants to reconcile all these agencies’ concerns. We’re trying to work with everyone.”

The first alleged violation, cited for the fourth time since last August, is that the Surf Lodge is operating far above its approved seating capacity; its food service permit is for 68 seats and the place has 122 seats, Mr. Sortino said in a phone interview last week. This is problematic as all other systems—refrigeration and most important, septic—are approved based on the permitted number of seats.

Mr. Mulholland responded that his restaurant only has 68 seats. “That’s our occupancy and we have abided that always and always will,” he said. “But they’re counting seats in the inside bar, lounge seating and the deck where people sit and have cocktails.”

Richard Kahn, a member of the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee and the Concerned Citizens of Montauk, groups that have expressed frustration and anger with the Surf Lodge, argued that the seating capacity violation was an important issue. “The food service permit is designed to ensure that the wastewater system is adequate,” Mr. Kahn said. “If you operate at double capacity, sooner or later you’ll have a failure of the septic system and pollute the pond,” he said.

Mr. Sortino said that he did receive a complaint, which he said must remain confidential, that the Surf Lodge’s septic system was overflowing into the pond. To investigate, county officials did two dye tests, one on June 27, a Saturday when the place was in full swing, and one a few days later.

“We actually pour dye down sinks and toilets and wait several hours and then go to see if there is evidence of dye in the pond,” Mr. Sortino said. There was none, although Mr. Kahn noted it still had been early in the season.

Mr. Mulholland said that the negative results from the dye tests put concerns about the Surf Lodge’s septic system “to rest.”

But Mr. Sortino said that “the sanitary system is designed to meet the amount of flow discharged from the establishment, which is based on seating. If you’re operating with more seating than you’re designed to handle there may be a failure of the system.”

The county will return to inspect and do another dye test later this summer, Mr. Sortino said.

The second violation was for hand contact with ready-to-eat food. The third violation was for staff working at an unapproved wait station, as the county must approve any renovations or additions to a restaurant or bar prior to construction. Mr. Mulholland said that the wait station in question was not a permanent structure, but had been set up for an event just one weekend.

The final violation was for inadequate hand-washing facilities, which lacked soap and paper towels and were blocked from use by trays of glasses, according to Mr. Sortino.

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reporter is an idiot. locals complaining are idiots. this is the smell of success and is and always will be a bitter pill to swallow for some. to the owners - go hire a good attorney to protect yourselves as the heat will be turned up on you guys! SLA and DEA will be next on the hit list - rich neighbors have lots of connections - beware and trust no one, no one.....
By BIGjimbo12 (201), East Quogue on Jul 22, 09 2:03 AM
BigJimbo's attitude only supports local sentiment against the club. Calling "locals" idiots is not a good way to make your case. I live about a half mile away from the club. One recent Saturday night, it was so loud I could almost make out the lyrics of the songs being sung by the band. My daughter had to make the TV louder. There's garbage all along the road in the morning. The congestion on the road at the driveway and nearby intersection will result in a tragedy eventually. We locals have ...more
By Liman (30), Montauk on Jul 22, 09 10:41 AM
What this can be condidered is simply another means by which someone has found a way to exploit the East End for profit. You really should not have this type of establishment so close to a delicate estuary. Besides the things mentioned such as the septic system, in addition as Liman pointed out, look at the filth people leave behind. I was born here, and when I myself. or with friends enjoy what the local waters and flora have to offer, we bag all our trash, and take it back out with us. We ...more
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jul 24, 09 9:40 AM
"just opened" ?
"eventually will pollute" ?
This story makes it sound as if the place didn't exist until this summer. In fact, it's been a loud, overcrowded nightclub and motel with parking, hygiene and safety problems since I first moved out here 20 years ago. It was simply operating before under a series of different names and owners.

By easthamptoner (34), easy hampton on Jul 28, 09 8:14 PM