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Aug 2, 2013 5:48 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town ZBA Denies Eruv Application

Aug 7, 2013 10:03 AM

The Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals has denied a variance that would have permitted the establishment of a symbolic Jewish religious boundary in Westhampton—a ruling that could complicate ongoing efforts to create an even larger boundary, called an eruv, that would also encompass parts of Westhampton Beach and Quogue villages.

ZBA Chairman Herbert Phillips, Vice Chairman Adam Grossman and board members Keith Tuthill, David Reilly and Brian DeSesa all voted in favor of the decision, while Ann Nowak abstained. Denise O’Brien was absent.

Mr. Grossman explained on Friday that the applicant, the East End Eruv Association (EEEA), could appeal the decision, or ask the Southampton Town Board to consider its appeal.

Michael McCarthy of the firm McCarthy & Reynolds in Huntington, one of the attorneys representing the EEEA, said the organization has not yet decided whether it will appeal the ruling.

“I wholeheartedly disagree with the decision,” Mr. McCarthy said. “It’s disappointing, but it was not unexpected. It’s what the EEEA anticipated, but they were hoping it was not going to happen.”

The other lawyer representing the EEEA, Robert Sugarman of Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP in Manhattan, did not return calls this week.

The EEEA filed the application in December, asking the zoning board to reverse Chief Building Inspector Michael Benincasa’s prior determination that the thin wooden strips that would mark the eruv’s boundaries, called “lechis,” are signs and therefore prohibited to be placed on poles in the town. The application was seeking permission to install 28 lechis on 15 utility poles that sit in the public rights-of-way in Westhampton, including those off Montauk Highway, Summit Boulevard and Tanners Neck Lane.

The application also sought a variance that would permit the lechis in the case that the ZBA upheld Mr. Benincasa’s ruling.

In its decision, the zoning board stated that the EEEA filed its appeal of Mr. Benincasa’s determination outside of the permitted 60-day window; Mr. Benincasa issued his determination on April 17, 2012, and the appeal was filed on December 4, 2012.

The ruling also states that the applicant failed prove that the zoning restrictions have caused unnecessary hardship, and that the variance, if granted, would not alter the character of the neighborhood. The town code prohibits signs on utility poles in order to reduce clutter and distractions, and to “promote the free flow of traffic and public safety.” The decision also states that granting the variance would be in “direct conflict” with those provisions.

Additionally, it states that “the relief requested is motivated by the personal desire of the applicant’s members to be freed from the prescriptions of religious law by securing a variance of secular law,” and that such motivation is a personal matter that “cannot constitute the ‘unnecessary hardship’ redressable by a zoning board through its variance powers.” The board also expressed concern for the precedent that granting the variance would create, stating that the deviation from the town code would be too widespread.

If permitted, the boundary would have allowed observant Jews to leave their homes on Saturdays and holy days while carrying items, such as car keys or water bottles, or pushing wheelchairs and strollers, activities that are otherwise prohibited by Jewish Law on the Sabbath. The Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach is the only house of worship that would benefit from the eruv’s creation.

The EEEA is seeking the establishment of the boundary in an area that includes parts of Quogue and Westhampton Beach villages, though only the area in Westhampton is subject to review by the town’s zoning board. In 2012, the Quogue Village Board rejected a similar application filed by the EEEA that sought permission from the village to install 48 lechis in that municipality. The basis for Quogue’s rejection, according to its decision, is that the board felt that allowing the lechis would violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits any governing body from favoring one religion over another.

During the ZBA hearings on the application, some Jewish residents from the area stated that the creation of the eruv would allow them to spend more time with their family and friends, and attend the synagogue services. But not all Jews are in favor of the eruv.

In 2008, about 300 local residents formed the Jewish People Opposed to the Eruv, a not-for-profit. Jonathon Sinnreich, an attorney who represents the organization, said during the hearings that its members belong to Jewish denominations that reject the concept of an eruv. He also said they have a right “not to be confronted on a daily basis as they go about their business in their local neighborhoods by the permanent display on multiple public utility poles of a deeply religious and sectarian symbol of a particular religious belief that they do not share, and in some cases find offensive,” according to the ZBA decision.

The EEEA has sued Southampton Town, as well as Quogue and Westhampton Beach villages, alleging that the three violated the constitutional rights of its group members by interfering with negotiations with the Long Island Power Authority and Verizon, which own the utility poles in question. That case has not been decided.

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Eruv people should just download the eruv iphone app, that way they know where the boundary is without having to put up all these sticks!
By ridiculous (214), hampton bays on Aug 2, 13 6:41 PM
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Aug 2, 13 6:44 PM
1 member liked this comment
This gets my vote for comment of the year, bravo and well done.
By user.name (46), the jungle on Aug 2, 13 9:16 PM
1 member liked this comment
That's actually probably the funniest comment I've read in a long time
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Aug 2, 13 9:54 PM
1 member liked this comment
OMG! I was going to comment the same thing as I was reading the article and before I saw your comment...there's an app for that, lol
By Jaws (245), Amity Island on Aug 2, 13 11:15 PM
2 members liked this comment

Does the App sound an alarm as one approaches the boundary and send a message if one crosses it?

To whom?
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Aug 3, 13 6:17 AM
The invisible man in the sky...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Aug 3, 13 8:54 AM
1 member liked this comment
When I was a kid the lechis were cut up bicycle tires. The little black cloud of unluckiness continues to hang over WH/B.
By Speonk Shores (31), Remsenburg on Aug 2, 13 7:02 PM
Please, put an eruv around hampton bays and we will welcome the entire congregation. The lechis can go up right next to the shamrocks for the St. Patricks day parade and all the other posters and banners for the San Gennnaro festival.
By davidf (325), hampton bays on Aug 2, 13 7:14 PM
2 members liked this comment
i''m not jewish but seems kind of hipocritical to do something you religion forbids on that day. If you don't want to follow the rules your relgion makes than maybe you should switch religions. Just saying.
By sagharborparent (30), sag harbor on Aug 3, 13 8:33 AM
Agreed -- note, though, that the Roman Catholic Church has been doing the same thing forever: no divorce? Okay, get an annulment instead, never mind that it makes an children from that marriage ex post facto illegitimate.

Jus' sayin'. There's workarounds in every organized religion.
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Aug 3, 13 7:31 PM
As one of those children who became "illegitimate" in my 20s, after many good legit years as the product of married parents, I would agree.

As to sagharbor's point, I'm curious if anyone knows how the Jewish religion came to offering this Sabbath day loophole to its followers? To an agnostic such as myself, it does seem a bit ridiculous (and I say this as someone with a wife and children with a degree of Jewish heritage.)
By BigBlue (12), Water Mill on Aug 5, 13 12:04 PM
to BigBlue:

As other sects have done, the Orthodox Jews started with a common sense exception to a doctrinal behavioral mandate of their faith and subsequently construed the circumstances that determined that exception to permit them do what they really wanted (i.e. disobey the mandate.)

Orthodox Jews are prohibited from working on the Sabbath and their creed's definition of "work" is fairly catholic, basically excluding doing any physical activity purposefully (e.g. carrying stuff.) ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Aug 6, 13 11:38 AM
Just pretend it's there. Same thing...
By Arnold Timer (327), Sag Harbor on Aug 5, 13 1:13 PM
1 member liked this comment
Couldn't have said it better myself.
By briantymann (31), westhampton beach on Aug 6, 13 10:41 AM
Speaking generally about the power structure in organized religions (no religion in particular), the absence of boundary markers might work for the parishioners perhaps, but is not one function of the markers to permit the rulers of the church to be able to identify wrong-doers and to chastise, condemn or punish them?

Where would the blind and lost parishioners be, if the ruling class of a church could not observe and correct their misguided or evil ways?
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Aug 6, 13 2:19 PM
Denied per updated article.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Aug 6, 13 4:30 PM