With a strongly worded letter from the Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee, the East Hampton Town Board cannot now assume that a plan to make a host of legal problems disappear at Cyril’s Fish House on Napeague — and allow the seasonally overcrowded business to grow — has much, if any, public support. Nonetheless, the board is set to go ahead with a public hearing tonight on an ill-advised scheme to downzone the parcel on which the bar and restaurant sits and an undeveloped lot next door from a residential to business classification. Its only evident backer is Tina Piette, a prominent Amagansett lawyer formerly active with the town Republican Party.
The town code is unequivocal: Nonconforming businesses like Cyril’s, which predate the adoption of zoning, are allowed to continue as long as they are not expanded. Strict review is supposed to be triggered when anything requiring a building permit is proposed for such properties, though in practice, the town has failed on many occasions to hold owners to that. In the case of Cyril’s, town records show more than a dozen structures added to the site without approval. By one count, as many as 26 zoning variances would be needed only to bring what already has been done there into legal compliance.
The big problem with Cyril’s is not simply that it has expanded illegally, or that its owners want it to grow even more, it is that the town code does not have adequate provisions to control how it functions in the real world. Of a sunny summer Saturday afternoon, hundreds of patrons mill around its gravel parking lot and within the state highway right-of-way as they try to elbow their way to the bar. Forget about the seats and the seafood menu; this is all about hanging out with friends over a Bailey’s or a cream daiquiri or two.
By late afternoon, as people leave the beach, vehicles can stretch far down both sides of Montauk Highway. Passing drivers slow and stare in amazement as mostly young patrons work their way along the shoulders. Double and triple-parked taxis make conditions even more dangerous. By early morning, Cyril’s plastic drink cups remain as unsightly reminders of the last evening’s revelry.
Instead of considering how to reward Cyril’s owners for mocking town laws, the town board should look for ways to curb the numbers of outdoor patrons such establishments can host at any one time. The last time this question came up, however, Councilwoman Theresa Quigley proposed a wildly generous outdoor occupancy calculation that would have made things worse by allowing one guest for every seven square feet of usable space. As many as 1,400 bodies would have been permitted on a quarter-acre lawn, for example.
The Cyril’s Fish House proposition now before the town is without merit. Why the board even agreed to consider it is, frankly, a mystery.