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Jun 10, 2009 12:03 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Protest of food pantry benefit concert is canned

Jun 10, 2009 12:03 PM

The East Hampton Town Board on Tuesday agreed to issue a permit for a charity concert in Amagansett on Monday, August 3, that could draw up to 4,000 people.

John Kowalenko, an Amagansett resident who owns The Art of Eating, is organizing the event with the goal of raising up to $100,000 for 10 East End food pantries.

The event will be held on the Principi property, a 21-acre field just east of the IGA on north side of Montauk Highway.

The proposal provoked an angry debate at a packed Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee meeting on Monday night.

Board members told Mr. Kowalenko on June 2 that it wanted to hear the advisory committee’s opinion before it gave him the go-ahead for the concert. Mr. Kowalenko and Yvonne and Richard Principi attended the advisory committee’s meeting and faced some intense criticism and accusations that Mr. Kowalenko was just trying to make a profit for himself, which brought Ms. Principi to the verge of tears.

Other ACAC members said they were concerned that the concert would set a precedent for other mass gatherings on the property, where Ms. Principi already operates an art gallery and held a one-time drive-in movie a few weeks ago, although she had initially applied to the Town Board for a permit to conduct drive-in movies every week, which the board denied.

“We have no problem with the cause, but the concern is that the property will become a venue for other charities or fund-raisers,” said Betty Mazur, an ACAC member. “That is not acceptable.”

Town Councilman Brad Loewen said that he had preliminary conversations with the Principi family, completely separate from the question of the food pantry fund-raiser, about turning the property into a semi-public space, similar to the Longhouse Reserve. The Principis have not approached the East Hampton Town Planning Board yet about such a change in use.

By the end of the two and a half hour meeting, a majority of committee members voted to support the festival as a one-time event “intended to meet the acute emergency of food pantries” after Mr. Kowalenko said that he would create a nonprofit organization for the festival’s revenues.

Mr. Kowalenko has been involved in many concert events before, including Southampton College’s long-running “All for the Sea” series. He organized a small scale music and food festival last winter, called “Ladles of Love,” when he heard about the desperate state of local food pantries. It raised $7,000 and collected 2,000 pounds of food.

“There are five food pantries within 10 miles that feed almost 2,000 people a month,” Mr. Kowalenko said to the committee on Monday. “That many people that are in need. People are unaware of the needs that are out there in the community.”

Many ACAC members said they supported the cause but worried about the traffic the event would bring, considering the already excessive traffic of the summertime in Amagansett.

“It will decimate this community for that period of time,” said Elaine Miller, a committee member. “Any accident, any injury, is on our heads. This is foolhardy for us to invite 4,000 people to come fool around and get drunk.”

Mr. Kowalenko said he had spoken with the East Hampton Town Police Chief Todd Sarris and Harbormastor Ed Michels, who assured him that they would be able to set up a traffic 
control plan. He also drew up maps that delineated three entrances to the 
property and parking for 2,000 cars. Traffic will also be diverted through two fields.

He said he had worked the overtime pay for town public servants, police and fire departments, into his budget for the event. He will also pay to have on-site ambulances. Mr. Kowalenko said he had interviewed Suffolk County Board of Health officials and made plans for bathrooms that will be trailered in and out, and he said he has talked to parking and security experts that will work with him to set up fencing and control the crowds.

The gates will open at 3 p.m. and the concert will start at 6 p.m. and continue until 9 p.m. He has not yet nailed down the headlining act as he was waiting to find out if he had the permit. “I’m trying to get an act to donate,” he said.

Alcohol will be served only within the V.I.P. section.

Arthur Stein, an Amagansett resident, and other people at the meeting asked how they could be sure Mr. Kowalenko was not making a profit, and how he knew he would be able to cover his expenses and still raise a significant amount of money.

“When this is done,” Mr. Kowalenko said, “we’re more than willing to put together a profit/loss for the community, delineating exactly how much money went to the food pantries.”

Alan Klopman, an ACAC member, asked if a person who buys a ticket for the concert would be able to write it off as a tax deduction. Mr. Kowalenko responded that the account for ticket sales had not been set up as non-profit account.

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God forbid "that the property will become a venue for other charities". Heaven knows we don't want those pesky charities raising money in our neighborhoods
By dagdavid (646), southampton on Jun 10, 09 8:37 AM
The negative ACAC members should hang their heads in shame. What we need is a little more kindness being shared. Like the saying goes, "there is just no cure for stupidity".
By quogue (12), southampton on Jun 10, 09 11:34 AM
NIMBYism at its finest
By nicole (96), Hampton Bays on Jun 12, 09 1:30 PM