Given all the ink that has been spilled over the Surf Lodge’s problems with some of its neighbors and the Town of East Hampton, we are hesitant to add more, yet to judge from the Memorial Day weekend crowds, more will need to be done to seek compliance with local laws there and at some other successful social spots.
The Surf Lodge, whose new ownership has pledged a kinder and gentler summer 2012, is far from alone. Indeed, a new wave of Montauk watering holes has opened, seeking a piece of the once-quiet easternmost hamlet’s exploding popularity. At the same time, old standbys have been experiencing swelling numbers of patrons.
Perhaps the most troublesome case is Cyril’s on Napeague, where upward of an estimated 500 people mobbed the property Saturday and Sunday afternoon and evening, tying up traffic on Montauk Highway in both directions and putting patrons and motorists alike at risk. A local resident with a connection to the Driftwood resort across the road told us this week that he considered the situation a “deathtrap.”
Perhaps because Montauk Highway is a state road, local officials have been hesitant to act on this disaster-in-the-making. They should not be; for example, when East Hampton Village was displeased with opening-night tumult at a restaurant on a stretch of the state highway within its borders, its police chief almost instantly invoked emergency public-safety powers and temporarily banned parking there overnight. The state soon followed his lead, installing no-standing signs. By contrast, Town of East Hampton officials seem to make noncommittal clucking noises as complaints come in, then avert their eyes.
Like many operations that might be considered trouble spots, the Surf Lodge, Cyril’s, and Ruschmeyer’s, which also has become a hot spot in Montauk, are on residentially zoned land. This means certain rules and expectations should apply, including that surrounding residents should not have to bear the traffic, noise, litter, and attendant dramas of someone else’s commercial success. It may seem hard to reconcile Cyril’s location on a busy highway with residential zoning, but the situation demands that reasonable — and safe — restrictions be imposed. Unfortunately, a proposal drafted by Town Councilwoman Theresa Quigley missed the mark in figuring out how to do so.
Under Ms. Quigley’s proposal, which has been tentatively set aside for the time being, out-of-place operations would gain further legitimacy with the gift of a set-in-stone capacity number of persons allowed to occupy their properties. As drafted, a calculation would give property owners the right to have up to almost 3,000 people outdoors at a bar or restaurant anywhere in town with a half-acre of usable grounds. (Cyril’s two parcels total just over an acre.) The correct course would be for the town to issue revocable commercial-mass-gathering permits for all outdoor activities by businesses in residential zones that regularly attract more than a couple dozen patrons. Those permits are only demanded now for commercial use of public spaces.
East Hampton Town has areas where day and night happy hours are welcome, with ample parking, street lights, and few occupied nearby houses — the central business districts. According to town law, pre-existing, nonconforming businesses in residential zones are supposed to go away over time, not grow. It is high time those in authority took notice of this. No one should have to hate their hometown on summer weekends.