The Suffolk Planning Commission, in a letter received by the East Hampton Town Planning Department on Monday, has weighed in on a controversial request to relax the zoning on two residential lots on Napeague, calling it an attempt to create prohibited “spot zoning.” The proposed down-zoning would allow Cyril’s Fish House, a popular summertime bar and restaurant, to expand.
Although the letter said the decision was a matter for local determination, there being “no apparent significant countywide or inter-community impact,” Sarah Lansdale, the director of planning, and Andrew P. Freleng, the county’s chief planner, warned that it “could set a precedent for other parcels in the area.” In addition, the county officials said, “If there is a townwide desire to create a node of commercial activity in this area, it should be pursued through a comprehensive plan/hamlet plan process.”
The letter was not discussed during the town board’s work session on Tuesday, despite an encore appearance at it by the applicant’s attorney, Dianne LeVerrier, along with her clients. Ms. LeVerrier had rehashed the issue at a work session last week, following a public hearing on March 7. Because the hearing record was held open through today, the board allowed additional comments on Tuesday.
Bonnie Dioguardi, one of the property owners, pleaded with the town board to steer her onto a clear path toward resolving the problems of parking, crowds, and an overburdened septic system, as well as the alleged, long-standing zoning code violations, which have resulted in numerous citations. “We have tried to satisfy. . . ,” she said, “but each time we were told of a new requirement.”
Ms. Dioguardi said she and Cyril Fitzsimons, who rents the property and runs the eponymous business, are eager to do whatever it takes but have been caught between the different standards and regulations of the town and the Suffolk Health Department.
At the heart of the controversy over the proposed change from residential to neighborhood business zoning are questions about whether it would comply with the comprehensive plan, is justified because of the potential to reduce highway parking and septic runoff, or if it would pave the way for a business that has flouted the law to expand.
“All we want to do is operate,” Ms. Dioguardi told the board. “We just need to know who to go to just have the ability to operate.”
“You have a right, by law, to continue your pre-existing, nonconforming use,” Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc told her. The restaurant has been at the site since before the property was zoned for residential use, and can continue but not expand, according to the code. The problem, the councilman said, is “things were done since it became nonconforming.”
“It’s a round-robin,” Ms. Dioguardi said, referring to some of the additions that prompted citations for zoning violations. “These are all items that are needed to run a business. You need a refrigerator. You need propane for your cooking.”
“There’s no continuity,” she said, of the differing town and county regulations with which Cyril’s must comply. “I want you to understand this; we have been trying and getting nowhere.”
“I apologize on behalf of the town. It is shameful,” Councilwoman Theresa Quigley said.
A possible town decision was hinted at, however, when Councilwoman Sylvia Overby asked Ms. Dioguardi if Cyril’s would be satisfied with reverting to the site’s original legal use, with a 62-seat limit. “That would be fine,” Ms. Dioguardi said.
The town attorney’s office will prepare an environmental analysis, as required by the State Environmental Quality Review Act, if the board continues its consideration of the zone change. If a majority of the board decides not to take the matter further, discussions will end.