Tora Matsuoka has been in the restaurant business for 16 years, starting at Sag Harbor’s Japanese mainstay Sen when he was just 13 years old. Since then, he has become the co-owner of Sen and its sister restaurant Phao Thai Kitchen, consults regularly with restaurant groups and plans to continue to expand his culinary empire.
“I would like to say publicly, it is a great idea to legalize music in Sag Harbor,” said Matsuoka who spoke at Tuesday night’s Sag Harbor Village Board hearing on a proposed music permit that would allow restaurants like Sen to legally offer live music to its patrons. It’s a practice that has gained steam recently and made the village the go-to spot for those seeking more than fine cuisine on the East End.
“Owning a restaurant in Sag Harbor is more philanthropy than a business,” said Matsuoka, noting as a business owner he needs to make ends meet while contending with a short, summer tourist season.
Matsuoka was not alone at Tuesday night’s hearing, as several business owners expressed support for the legislation, but like Matsuoka asked for clarity in the law and to have the opportunity to sit down with the village board of trustees to ensure the legislation is something that benefits local businesses and protects the village from enduring a club-like scene on Main Street.
As currently written, a music permit would be free and businesses could simply apply with the village clerk to obtain one. Barring any issues or complaints, the permit would be automatically renewed each year as long as the business has not changed hands.
The law would allow live music to be played in restaurants no later than one hour after dinner service, and no later than 1 a.m. Bars and taverns would also be allowed to host live music, no later than one hour before they close, and all establishments would need to adhere to the village’s noise ordinances. Cabarets, discos or nightclubs will not be granted a permit, nor would any restaurant or bar with characteristics of a cabaret, disco or nightclub.
“Right now, the way it exists anyone walking down the street could say there is music going on and we would have to enforce [the current law],” said trustee Robby Stein, one of the proponents and authors of the new law.
Trustee Tim Culver opened Tuesday night’s hearing stating he has some concerns with the law as written, namely, that it should come with a permit fee, and that he wondered how late the village should allow businesses to have live music.
He added he would like the village to be able to immediately suspend a music permit should a problem arise, and ensure the business a hearing in front of the board of trustees within three business days, a concept the board agreed with as often village code issues can be tied up in court for months on end.
John Landes, co-owner of Bay Burger, just outside the village limits, said music at that establishment, which can be credited with the crescendo of live music in Sag Harbor this year, has been profitable, but also something the community as a whole has embraced.
“If the ordinance passes, we will find this is definitely a benefit to the continued expansion and life of the businesses of Sag Harbor,” he said.
Beppe Desiderio, co-owner of Blue Sky, said his main concern is that the village defines what music is, as he has had everything from Jim Turner’s open mic night to disc jockeys and even a drag queen perform with success.
“Once you decide that, I think we are going somewhere,” he said. “I think the most important thing at the end of the day is the decibel level, occupancy and safety.”
Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Tom Fabiano said he was not interested in restricting anyone from having live music, but stressed defining what that is and what is allowed is critical for enforcement.
Before moving forward, Mayor Brian Gilbride suggested forming a committee of trustees, business owners and the police chief to sit down and discuss the law, ideally before next month’s village board meeting.
Justice Position Adopted
The Village of Sag Harbor officially created the position of Village Justice at Tuesday night’s meeting, the first step in the current administrations plans to revive plans for a Justice Court in Sag Harbor.
With little fanfare, and no protests, the board adopted the law which creates the position, although Sag Harbor Village Attorney Fred W. Thiele, Jr. noted it is subject to permissive referendum, which means a resident can ask the board put the law up for a public vote if they gather enough resident signatures.
Lastly, the board discussed the possibility of extending its sewer main to the John Jermain Memorial Library on Main Street in the first public hearing on the matter.
The library has asked the village to extend the village sewer line for its proposed expansion of the historic library building, which is currently under review by the village planning board. The expansion would require three homeowners and the Custom House to also hook up to the line, as village code demands anyone with reasonable access to the sewer line become a user.
According to Gilbert Flanagan, the library’s attorney, the four property owners have been reached out to, but the library has yet to hear any comments back from them about the proposal.
Vinny Gartiello, the library’s civil engineer said given the expansion and the library site, the Suffolk County Health Department suggested this was the route the library should take as they would otherwise need a variance from their department for an onsite sanitary system.
The village sewer main would be extended down Main Street, said Gartiello, about 250-feet and down Union Street where it would connect to the library. The total cost of that construction would be paid for by the library and is estimated to cost upwards of $200,000.
Gilbride said he would like the village to reach out to the affected property owners and let them know should this occur they would have to hook up to the system, at their own cost, as the library has yet to offer to cover that expense yet.
The hearing will be kept open and reheard at next month’s village board meeting.