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Mar 29, 2011 5:25 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Residents File Lawsuit Arguing Amagansett Festival Is Not Allowed

Mar 29, 2011 5:25 PM

A group of Amagansett residents filed suit last week against East Hampton Town and the organizers of an August music festival, arguing the two-day event should not be allowed to go forward because its permit is invalid.

The lawsuit, which the plaintiffs filed in State Supreme Court, claims the Town Board issued the wrong kind of permit to the organizers in December and failed to perform the necessary reviews beforehand.

The festival, which is expected to draw as many as 9,500 attendees, has been controversial from the outset, with residents expressing concerns about traffic, crowds and noise. The organizers have pledged $100,000 of their proceeds to local charities.

The plaintiffs in the suit are four Amagansett residents—Elaine Jones, Jeremy Nussbaum, Jeffrey Britz and John Broderick—as well as an association called Residents to Rescind the Rock Permit. Listed among the defendants are all five members of the Town Board, the Sag Harbor firm organizing the festival—which is called Music To Know, or MTK—and the owners of the festival grounds at Oceanview Farm on Montauk Highway.

“It’s actually fairly straightforward,” said Jeffrey Bragman, the attorney representing the plaintiffs. “There’s an existing permit for 10,000 people over in Amagansett. It appears to us that it’s the wrong permit. And it has appeared to us for a long time that the town did not follow its statutes.”

In the suit, Mr. Bragman argues that the Town Board erroneously issued a commercial gathering permit reserved for events on public land; Oceanview Farm is privately owned. The lawsuit also alleges that the Town Board failed to undertake any sort of environmental review of the proposal, which Mr. Bragman said was necessary, and failed to circulate the application among a number of town departments who he said were required to see it.

Assistant Town Attorney Robert Connelly said in an email this week that his office could not comment on pending litigation. Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson did not return a call seeking comment.

Chris Jones, one of the founders of MTK, also said he could not comment on the lawsuit, but took the opportunity to defend his festival, noting that he and a business partner started a new company in tough economic times, created six full-time jobs and even more positions at companies involved with the venture, signed a lease on a building that has been empty for years, promised $100,000 to charities and set out to create two days of music in the summer.

“And we get sued over it,” he said. “What’s wrong with this picture? I just find that very disheartening, and that’s really the only commentary I’ve got on it.”

In February, MTK applied to move the festival to an unused portion of the town-owned East Hampton Airport, although the Town Board and the Federal Aviation Administration have yet to sign off on the switch. At a work session last Tuesday, the Town Board continued to go through preliminary environmental review procedures for the airport application—actions that it did not perform for the original proposal—and seemed to be moving toward a full review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act.

Mr. Bragman praised the Town Board for reviewing the airport application.

“I am genuinely pleased the town is going to do an environmental review” of the proposed airport site, he said. “I think that is a step in the right direction, a welcome step.”

Any for-profit event held on private land must comply with zoning rules, according to Mr. Bragman; as he tells it, there is no permit in the town code that could allow for it otherwise. A mass gathering permit—which MTK originally applied for—is for not-for-profit events, he said, and a commercial gathering permit allows for-profit events to take place on public land.

MTK is working with the town to determine which local charities will benefit from the festival, Mr. Jones said. He said the lineup is shaping up, but he would not divulge acts this week. The festival is slated for August 13 and 14.

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Bottom line -- the process by which this festival was approved was flawed from the get go.

Any complaints about this lawsuit by the promoters, or the EH Town Board, are disingenuous at best.

When you apply for, and approve, a bogus operation behind closed doors, can you really complain when the community wants to air your dirty laundry?

It is YOUR dirty laundry, after all.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Mar 29, 11 7:17 PM
PS -- Re: approval process and timing, see 12/21/10 article and comments via link above.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Mar 29, 11 7:20 PM
I have been an east end resident for the last 20 years, starting out as part time and now full time and i do love it. But, for the life of me, i cannot understand why whether its construction related, new business or a music festival, the towns make it so so difficult to do anything. There is always some kind of glitch that makes the process go on and on and on.
By kitkat (1), Sag Harbor on Mar 29, 11 8:58 PM
Much of it, at least in this case appears to be do to snobbery by old folks. This concert irks these people, because it may contain something called fun, which is apparently something that many residents here have a problem with.
By reality 101 (137), East Hampton on Mar 30, 11 7:39 PM
What about Indian Field?

I have rather fond memories of some great shows there.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Mar 29, 11 9:16 PM
This lawsuit is the most bogus hoax by this group since their all out assault against Amagansett Square, which according to them, was going to cause the ruination of Amagansett. Now this two day event is going to bring the walls tumbling down? Are they serious? The people behind this law suit are the same people who sat in front of the Farmers Market for years when it had outstanding violations in Justice Court for illegal expansion, no sight plan approvals for modifications, etc., etc. AND ...more
By formertbm (76), east hampton on Mar 30, 11 9:01 PM
If the organizers had any common sense they would have moved the dates to September. Attendance would not have suffered one bit. That would have eliminated 95% of the objections.
By harbor (415), East Hampton on Mar 30, 11 9:08 PM
Perhaps what the public doesn't realize is that the permit is flawed by the fact that you can't give a commercial permit to a residential property. If they can then all of us can have concerts on our residential property or any function to make money. It will certainly seem unfair if only Principi can do this.
By housewife (79), east hampton on Apr 1, 11 10:21 PM