MONTAUK, N.Y. — Ditch Plains Beach is the heart of the surf scene in Montauk, a two-mile stretch of dunes and sea at the tip of Long Island’s East End with views of sand cliffs to the east and west.
It is also where, on summer weekends, a group of longtime Montauk residents and vacationers gather to drink, smoke pot, toss Frisbees and dance till dark, as if staging their own mini Burning Man festival. The patch of beach where they congregate has a nickname among locals: Clown Town.
With its surfers and revelers, the scene recalls Montauk as it was more than two decades ago, before private equity executives, social media stars and other moneyed newcomers put their stamp on this formerly rustic beach town of dive bars and tackle shops. Those who settled in the area before real estate prices shot skyward now lament the passing of the scruffy outpost they used to know.
This summer, the major topic of conversation among many longtime Montauk residents and vacationers hasn’t been the waves, the weather or the problem of coastal erosion. Rather, they’ve been talking about the big house rising above Ditch Plains Beach. They wonder aloud about how big it will be once it’s completed. They speculate about who will live there.
The house is not the size of the mansion belonging to that fictional Long Islander Jay Gatsby, but it’s close. It looms over the public parking lot where the Ditch Witch food truck has served egg wraps and burritos since 1994. It looms over the surfers who ride the clean, consistent waves that break past the jetty. And it looms over Clown Town.
“It dominates the view from everywhere,” said John Madere, 67, a photographer and documentary filmmaker who has been surfing at Ditch Plains Beach for 15 years.
“It’s nice to look back at the shore from the water and see a pretty view,” he continued. “Now I’m seeing this house by some billionaire that’s just humongous.”
The house now under construction is part of a subdivision, Montauk Colony, made up of four roughly one-acre lots. Public records show that its owner is 40 Deforest Rd LLC, a limited liability corporation that shares the same New Jersey mailing address as Smith Management, a company formed by the investor Randall D. Smith. The L.L.C. paid $4.8 million for the lot in December 2020, records show. Mr. Smith is also a founder of Alden Global …….