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Sep 4, 2013 1:06 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Lack Of Progress, Violations Anger Neighbors Of Popular Hampton Bays Restaurant

Sep 4, 2013 1:28 PM

It’s a Thursday morning on Canoe Place Road and, like every Thursday morning this summer, Irene Tully documents the early arrival of an Emil Norsic & Son septic truck to drain sewage from the cesspool of the Rumba Rum Bar restaurant that sits a hundred yards from her home.

Some weeks, she photographs the trucks from her back porch, which overlooks the restaurant’s small parking lot. Other times, she simply marks the appearance on her calendar.

Throughout the week, Ms. Tully makes note of delivery trucks that stop in front of the small restaurant—obstructing traffic as they unload their goods—along with every violation she hawkishly observes at the popular venue.

“If I didn’t write these letters ... if we weren’t active here, there would be parking all over this road, there would be live music over there, [trucks would] be coming in [at all hours],” she said.

Ms. Tully is one of the more active members of a small but vocal group of homeowners in Hampton Bays disgruntled both by the restaurant’s business practices—which include hosting live music, breaching their occupancy limit, shuttling patrons in by bus and boat to circumvent limited on-site parking, frequently pumping the septic system, and allowing delivery trucks to park on the tight stretch of Canoe Place Road—and the Southampton Town Board’s inability, or unwillingness, to correct the situation more than a year after threatening litigation against the restaurant.

“I’m just surprised that somebody hasn’t gotten really badly hurt from it, because it’s being used as a major thoroughfare, and it wasn’t meant for that,” said Merry Grube, the sister of Town Trustee Ed Warner Jr., who lives and operates her landscaping business in the same neighborhood as Rumba.

Ms. Grube, Ms. Tully and other neighbors, including Kathy Warner, Mr. Warner’s wife, have called town code enforcement, written complaints, and spoken out publicly against Rumba, but their efforts appear to be in vain. No violations have been issued against the waterfront restaurant this spring or summer, even though Ms. Tully and others said they have filed multiple complaints with Town Hall.

And recent discussions about the restaurant have created more divides among Town Board members than plausible solutions.

Councilwoman Bridget Fleming has been the most vocal as of late, calling for stricter enforcement, as well as a public hearing to discuss the matter, which she was granted but which yielded few results.

“The board is made up of five members, and as one member of the board I have tried a number of avenues to try to get action on Rumba,” Ms. Fleming said. “There is not majority support for those approaches.”

The July 25 hearing resulted in a few suggestions from Town Police Chief Robert Pearce and Town Transportation Coordinator Tom Neely. Officials recommended that video cameras be installed on the street to monitor parking and signs put up to regulate it, but there has been no follow-up by the board, Mr. Neely or Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, whose office sent the letter outlining the requests, to see if the restaurant has complied.

Rumba’s owner, David Hersh, has not returned calls in recent weeks inquiring if any of the requested steps have been taken, or if plans are advancing to install a new septic system that, in the very least, would reduce the need to have the cesspool pumped on a weekly basis.

In an email sent on Tuesday, Ms. Throne-Holst said Mr. Hersh has been taking steps to come into compliance with the town code, and that is why she has been patient.

“I am certainly anxious to see Rumba achieve compliance with town code, but I also believe the business owner is entitled to due process,” she wrote in an email. “When we first met with David [Hersh] and his attorney, they outlined the steps they planned to pursue in order to cure the issues the restaurant was being cited for—and they have made steady progress toward meeting those objectives.”

Ms. Throne-Holst has come under fire by some, including Ms. Tully and Ms. Grube, for her connections with Mr. Hersh, who contributed $1,000 to her reelection campaign in 2011 in addition to be being featured in her campaign advertisement the same year.

Although the town has levied various citations against the restaurant in years past, the property owner, Robert Arcate, cannot be prosecuted until the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals rules on an application submitted by the restaurant that seeks to excuse it from the parking requirements, Town Attorney Tiffany Scarlato said.

The restaurant is asking the zoning board to waive the town’s parking restrictions and the restaurant’s occupancy limit, the latter of which now permits up to 100 customers, according to Adam Grossman, the vice chairman of the ZBA. The board has granted multiple adjournments to Mr. Hersh as he seeks a permit from the Suffolk County Health Department to increase the number of seats at Rumba from 21 to 64—an accommodation that Mr. Grossman said the restaurant might never receive.

“The underlying issue with this restaurant is that they have more customers than the [code of occupancy] allows for, and current health board code allows for,” Mr. Grossman said. “I cannot recall, in all my years, this type of relief being requested by another applicant.”

Mr. Arcate’s legal counsel has requested and received multiple adjournments from the ZBA, a practice that can continue as long as zoning board members continue to grant them, Ms. Scarlato said, leaving the business safely secured in a legal loophole. Mr. Grossman said the board would most likely continue granting the adjournments to Mr. Arcate, who is due in front of the board again on Thursday, September 19, until the county health department decides on the seating request—something that will not likely happen until Rumba’s cesspool system is upgraded.

“There isn’t anything we can do,” Ms. Scarlato said. “It’s the strange part and the unfortunate part of how ZBAs work. We really don’t have anything to hurry things along.”

Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi said he is in line with Ms. Fleming on the issue, and echoed that it would be near impossible to get the Town Board to take any kind of action against the restaurant. He, like others, says Ms. Throne-Holst is the main roadblock, defending the restaurant, and its owner, Mr. Hersh, at every turn.

“You have a supervisor who seems completely, just absolutely opposed to doing anything over there in terms of restrictions,” Mr. Nuzzi said.

When asked about whether taking legal action against Rumba is still an option, Mr. Nuzzi said: “It’s clear that there would not be a majority support for any kind of action like that.” He declined to speculate how such a vote would fall.

Multiple sources familiar with the situation strongly suggested that Ms. Throne-Holst has directed others—namely, the town attorney’s office—away from pursuing any legal action against the restaurant in recent months. The supervisor has not returned calls or emails after responding to repeated requests for an interview with the exception of an email sent on Tuesday.

Councilman Jim Malone spoke harshly this week about the need to enforce the town code and ensure that Mr. Hersh and Mr. Arcate are actually working to get in compliance. “If there hasn’t been a diligent effort to get things squared away, and I mean diligent, then I’ve got no tolerance for it,” he said.

Mr. Malone was vocal last summer about the town pursuing legal action against Rumba, going as far as to state that it should temporarily shut the restaurant until it was in compliance with the code. But that effort went nowhere, even after the board granted the town attorney’s office full authority last summer to take any legal action necessary against the restaurant.

Ms. Scarlato said the town attorneys have not taken any action against Rumba since it filed its application with the zoning board last August. She declined to explain why that is the case.

Town Councilwoman Christine Scalera has abstained from many discussions about Rumba, citing a conflict of interest. She explained on Wednesday that she provided legal counsel to Mr. Hersh regarding an unspecified legal matter prior to her election to the Town Board.

The inaction of the Town Board has done nothing to ease the concerns of neighbors.

“Anna Throne-Holst told us, ‘Oh, it’s OK, he’s a good guy. He’s bringing business to Hampton Bays,’” Ms. Grube said. “That doesn’t answer the question, and that does not help the situation. That just condones the fact that he’s breaking the rules.”

Ms. Throne-Holst said her reasoning for not pursuing further action against the restaurant is that Mr. Hersh, in her opinion, has made strides toward getting into compliance, such as seeking Suffolk County Health Department approval to increase seating, and obtaining a credit from the town allowing 20 on-site boating slips to count as 10 additional employee parking spots.

“In my opinion, shutting down a successful establishment while it is making clear and meaningful progress toward achieving code compliance is excessive,” she wrote in her email. “Further, town law provides for a stay to maintain the status quo during the appeal process, which is ongoing.”

Ms. Throne-Holst said she is optimistic that with the summer drawing to a close, Mr. Hersh will have a chance to update the septic system to facilitate the number of patrons that visit his restaurant, which has been known to total more than 200 during a lunch or dinner rush. However, a similar sentiment was expressed last year with no results.

Despite the limited progress made since she took on the cause when the restaurant opened in 2010, Ms. Tully said she has not given up hope. During her 35-year career as an elementary school teacher, Ms. Tully said she emphasized activism to her students, so she feels an obligation to practice what she preached.

Her days as a teacher also instilled a desire to enforce rules, which she said is—beyond the smell of septic in the morning, the beeping trucks during the day, and the playing of music at night—her main motivation for taking a stand.

“As a classroom teacher for 35 years, that’s what I did in the halls—the kids didn’t even have to be in my class,” she said. “It’s accountability. Otherwise, why do you have rules?”

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Is there some connection between owner and Throne-Holst she does not usually go out on a limb for a business that is in violation of the law and why so much accomodation by the ZBA,Worth looking into Linda this election year.Linda K we are waiting for your comment
By Etians rd (543), Southampton on Sep 4, 13 6:50 PM
1 member liked this comment
Why wasn't this place shut down until it is in full compliance with the law. Mr. Hersh seems to be playing games with the town at the expense of the residents, and Ms. Throne-Hulse is the enabler here. Why do we have laws if compliance is not enforced?
By joan s (53), hampton bays on Sep 5, 13 8:19 PM
All those who are trying to pin this on Anna Throne-Holst alone need to realize that she's only one vote on a five-member board, and that any three members can carry the day. So why don't they? More than one board member states, in this article, that there is not a majority for action against Rumba.

Why not? Christine Scalera abstains because of a conflict of interest -- fair enough. Let's say Bridget Fleming would be a solid vote to take action, because Ms. Fleming is a straight ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Sep 7, 13 4:56 PM
And yet ATH is responsible for the economic recovery all by herself. Cant work that way TB.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Sep 10, 13 11:34 PM
So, George, if I understand you correctly Throne-Holst is solely responsible for following the economic blueprint created and initially instituted by Linda Kabot and the Board had nothing to do with that, but when Throne-Holst stops the Town Attorney from bringing an action against one of Throne-Holst' heavy campaign finance contributors, then it is the Board's doing?

Multiple sources familiar with the situation strongly suggested that Ms. Throne-Holst has directed others—namely, ...more
By NTiger (543), Southampton on Sep 9, 13 11:24 PM
1 member liked this comment
NTiger, you ask if I say the failure to act on Rumba is the Board's doing? You know I do, because it's due to the Board's inaction -- they could outvote ATH any day of the week, but they don't do it. Why not?

Your statement that "Throne-Holst stops the Town Attorney from bringing an action against one of Throne-Holst's heavy campaign finance contributors" is a bad joke. David Hersh's two year-old check for $1000 -- and there's been nothing since -- isn't enough to make anyone compromise ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Sep 10, 13 2:02 PM
Actually George I was quoting the article.

I guess like the Comptroller's Audit Report and Town Plan of Action in response, you haven't read the article either.

You are a trip George.

I wonder if even you take yourself seriously.

So I guess George that you are critical of Councilperson Fleming who evidently believes the Town can take action. Go throw your invective on the lone representative of the political party to which you serve as an officer. ...more
By NTiger (543), Southampton on Sep 10, 13 11:25 PM
Sleaze is sleaze, whether it comes from NTiger or Kyle Campbell. Had you begun your paragraph with a quotation as you should have, the mistake wouldn't have happened, but it's no harm. After a bad beginning, Mr. Campbell at least reported the supervisor's position, which is far more than NTiger did.

I don't have a position on Rumba's. All I've been saying is that those who blame ATH alone for this are either mistaken or deceptive, because she's only one vote on a 5-member Board.

I ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Sep 11, 13 3:21 PM
No George I haven't researched the issue. But if you'd like to sign a retainer agreement and pay my fee I'd be glad to do that for you.

Your response begs the issue as to what grounds Fleming has to believe the Town can act. That certainly appears to be her position. Otherwise why would she be pushing that issue.

As to Nuzzi and Malone, I can't answer for either of them, though I have noticed that Malone has sided with Throne-Holst on a number of issues.

I have respect ...more
By NTiger (543), Southampton on Sep 11, 13 6:51 PM
First time in the history of mortal man that NTiger hasn't run down a legal point, especially one made by the other side. You're too good a lawyer for me to believe that statement. You either did check it out and learned that ATH is right, or you already know the law and you know ATH is right. You just refuse to admit it.
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Sep 14, 13 11:41 AM
Wrong wrong wrong. But then you usually are.

But George your posts do make me laugh. So thanks for the chuckles.

To me the issue here is that when you take a campaign donation from someone who has business before the Town you should recuse yourself entirely. No involvement in discussions, no involvement with Town Attorney's office, no voting on the matter.

You, George, and I have a different ethical compass on that issue.

Albany calls the practice pay to play. ...more
By NTiger (543), Southampton on Sep 14, 13 7:28 PM
So that's your answer? I'm "wrong wrong wrong" and I make you laugh? That, plus a handful of tactical distractions, like urging recusal, ethical compasses, "appearance of impropriety," supervisor's 1st Town Attorney, etc. -- not one word responsive to ATH's assertion that the law prevents action pending appeal.

That's really your whole answer? Very lame, NTiger. As I said, you know she's right and you refuse to admit it. End of story.
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Sep 15, 13 11:06 AM
No, George, I know no such thing.

But tell me George why is it you do not respond to the ethical question that underlies this story?

Simple question for a yes or no answer George:

Should an elected official recuse themselves from all activity involving a person, corporation, partnership, et. al. who has contributed to their campaign finance committee?

Is that pay for play in your opinion or not?

Answer my question and perhaps I will research the issue. ...more
By NTiger (543), Southampton on Sep 15, 13 1:27 PM
So, based on the below (which I understood as a still pending decision by Mr. Benincasa but I guess he made up his mind), at least 10 employees take a boat to work each day? And why are 20 slips needed to make up 10 parking spots? This is all BS and it's clear that Rumba isn't the only one in the catering business...

"Ms. Throne-Holst said her reasoning for not pursuing further action against the restaurant is that Mr. Hersh, in her opinion, has made strides toward getting into compliance, ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Sep 10, 13 2:39 PM
1 member liked this comment
The law is the law, for some businesses. We have a similar situation in Southampton regarding surfing lessons. The 4x4 area has become a free for all in regards to commercial enterprise, 4 or 5 different entities giving lessons in direct violation of Village ordinance, the mayor's response? It's private property, we can't do anything about it. The law applies to most of us, just not the ones with political connections.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Sep 11, 13 7:07 AM
1 member liked this comment