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Oct 6, 2019 4:39 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Committee Recommends Narrower Music Law Demands In East Hampton

Members of the town's Business Advisory Committee discussion amendments to the live music permit law.
Oct 7, 2019 1:19 PM

An advisory committee that has been reviewing proposed changes to East Hampton Town's live music permits for restaurants and bars will recommend that the Town Board drop overcrowding and all but noise violations from the list of offenses that could put an establishment's right to host live music in jeopardy.

The members of the town's Business Advisory Committee settled on recommending that town-issued live music permits be revocable only for violations of town noise ordinances — which musicians and members of the committee have said needs to be re-examined separately as well — and only if a given business were to be convicted in court of three violations of the ordinance in a given calendar year.

The committee said that there should be no limit on the amount of time in which convictions for the violations are reached, so as not to allow a business to simply put off addressing the violations in court, but that the violations would all have to occur in the same season of one year.

No violations issued prior to whenever an amended law takes effect should be counted toward consideration of music permit renewals for the 2020 season, the committee members said.

The recommendations come after months of review by the business committee, which is composed of town officials, attorneys and business owners, following the Town Board abandoning a package of changes proposed last spring that were met with public outcry.

Those changes would have made revocation of a music permit possible if a business was found to have violated a broad range of town codes just twice in a three-year period.

But outraged musicians said that such a broad net would cripple their ability to find gigs at local businesses.

When the law was brought to the business committee by the town attorney's office over the summer, the range of violations was quickly pared down to just overcrowding and noise matters and the period of time trimmed to 18 months.

At a meeting on Thursday afternoon, the committee's members almost unanimously favored making only noise violations a revocable offense and requiring that they all have to come within a given year for a business to be found to be a "bad actor," as they dubbed repeat offenders.

"If you include overcrowding, someone could potentially lose their music permit for something that has nothing to do with musical performances," committee member Paul Monte said.

The town has been wrestling with finding teeth in a music law and has yet to actually revoke a permit from any establishment. The law had made it possible for a permit to be revoked if an establishment got three summonses for noise violations, but the town was advised by the town attorney's office that only adjudicated convictions would be legally pertinent in a revocation hearing.

Seeing the right to hold live music as a "privilege," the town proposed a law earlier this year that required a business to be squeaky clean in the eyes of the town code in order to continue having the right to host live music. Musicians said that would force many of their regular venues to stop hiring bands immediately and would drive many others to give up just to avoid the hassles.

"I would beg you to make it three convictions because the one thing nobody talks about is that if it's two convictions and you have one conviction, you are now running a business under unbelievable stress and the owners are under duress, and that transfers to their staff and to their customers," said Nancy Atlas, a musician who spearheaded the outrage over the original amendments. "It is not fun and what I hear is 'I don't think I'll have live music anymore if they pass this. It's already hard enough to make a living in 22 weeks.'"

Only restaurants and bars whose main business model is not musical performances must have the music permits. Nightclub venues like the Stephen Talkhouse do not need the permits.

Committee member Job Potter and some other members said they might even support dropping the need for the permits for a restaurant or bar to have live "background" music that is not amplified and is not the main draw to an establishment.

"As a practical matter, does someone playing a piano in the background at a restaurant require a permit?" he asked. "It's not the focus. If it's not amplified? Maybe that should be the catch, whether it is amplified or not."

Assistant Town Attorney NancyLynn Thiele said that since acquiring a music permit is not very onerous — all it requires is filling out an application — a restaurant or bar getting one regardless of the format of the live music should not be an issue worth tailoring the law to so specifically.

The effort to overhaul the music permits stemmed from a request by Town Clerk Carole Brennan's office that the permits be issued via annual renewals because her office had run into difficulty determining when a permit was handed to a new owner or whether an owner who had been issued violations that could potentially lead to revocation moved their business to a new venue.

Ms. Thiele said that in terms of practicality and court matters, the changes proposed by the business committee would likely mean that no business would face the threat of losing a music permit until at least 2022.

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