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Apr 2, 2013 3:16 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East End Eruv Association To Challenge Southampton Town'S Sign Ordinance

Apr 3, 2013 1:09 PM

Representatives of a group that wants to establish a religious boundary in western Southampton Town will go before the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals for the first time this week to question whether a town ordinance prohibiting the affixing of signs on utility poles in the municipality should apply to its application.

The East End Eruv Association (EEEA) filed an application in September that seeks permission to install 28 lechis, or wooden markers, that would delineate the boundaries of its proposed eruv, on 15 utility poles located in the hamlet of Westhampton. The group, which has been pushing for the boundary’s creation for several years, also wants to install lechis in the villages of Westhampton Beach and Quogue—though it has not yet received permission to do so.

The applications have sparked several lawsuits that are still making their way through the court system. Proponents of the eruv say they need to establish the boundary in order to allow observant Jews to perform specific tasks, like pushing baby strollers and carrying their house keys, that are otherwise banned on the Sabbath. The only house of worship that would benefit from the eruv’s creation is the Hampton Synagogue on Sunset Avenue in Westhampton Beach.

“Their argument includes the position that they don’t believe they should be subject to the town sign ordinance,” said Adam Grossman, vice chairman of the town’s ZBA, in regard to Thursday night’s agenda. “And if they are, they want relief from the ordinance.”

Robert Sugarman, an attorney with the Manhattan law firm Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP—which is representing the EEEA pro bono—did not return multiple calls this week seeking comment about the application.

According to Mr. Grossman, the EEEA is arguing that the lechis do not qualify as signs and, therefore, should not be regulated by the town’s sign ordinance. In October, the Southampton Town Building Department determined that the lechis are signs and, as a result, should not be permitted on the poles.

The application is expected to be discussed on Thursday night at Southampton Town Hall. The ZBA meeting begins at 7 p.m.

Mr. Grossman said he expects Thursday night’s hearing to be the first of several meetings where the application will be discussed, noting that it can take up to several months for his board to issue a decision. He also said the group is prepared to hear from those residents who oppose the application.

The eruv has been a topic of discussion since 2008, when Hampton Synagogue officials first proposed the idea to Westhampton Beach Village Trustees. Synagogue officials later withdrew their application and, in 2011, the EEEA picked up the baton and sued the town and both the villages of Westhampton Beach and Quogue, alleging that they are violating the civil rights of all observant Jews by blocking the boundary’s creation. Those who would utilize the boundary have noted that Jewish law requires that it be approved and recognized by those who control the area in which it would be placed—the main sticking point in the battle on the East End.

In 2011, U.S. District Judge Leonard Wexler, who will ultimately rule on the lawsuits and decide the fate of the eruv, dismissed the argument that the municipalities were denying the EEEA’s right to create an eruv since applications had never been filed. Since then, the EEEA filed an application with Quogue that was subsequently denied by the Village Board. The group also filed an application with the town but has not done so with Westhampton Beach Village, noting that there is no preexisting ordinance to challenge.

In a separate move, the EEEA has filed documentation stating that it supports the Long Island Power Authority and Verizon in their lawsuit against the three municipalities. Both utilities filed suit in January 2011 and are challenging that the municipalities are preventing them from completing a contract with the EEEA. Both utilities have already authorized the group to affix the lechis to their poles in Westhampton Beach and Quogue. Last June, the municipalities filed a countersuit, alleging that LIPA and Verizon do not have the authority to approve such an agreement.

Judge Wexler is expected to make a decision in that case in the next few weeks.

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