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Nov 11, 2009 2:25 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach expects to make decision soon on synagogue application

Nov 11, 2009 2:25 PM

The Westhampton Beach Village Board will soon decide whether to give the Hampton Synagogue permission to legally convert a home on its Sunset Avenue property into a dining hall and meeting room—more than six years after the synagogue made the changes without village approval.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Jim Hulme, a lawyer with Kelly & Hulme, the Westhampton Beach firm that is representing the synagogue on its conversion application, at a Village Board meeting on Thursday, November 5.

Officials with the Hampton Synagogue filed the site plan application with Westhampton Beach in 2002 after they were issued a violation by the village for illegally converting a house on the structure.

Last Thursday, several neighbors of the house of worship encouraged the Village Board not to grant the permit, accusing the synagogue of being a bad neighbor and claiming that site plan approval will decrease their property values and disturb their quality of life.

The Hampton Synagogue, located at 154 Sunset Avenue, received approval for the home, which was supposed to be used as living quarters for rabbis, in its original 1993 site plan application, according to Paul Houlihan, the Westhampton Beach Village building and zoning administrator. The building is located north of the synagogue’s parking lot.

Synagogue officials applied in 2000 to expand the house’s dining room and, sometime after that, they illegally converted the living quarters into office space and a dining hall, according to village officials. The village noticed the illegal use in 2002 and issued a violation, according to Mr. Houlihan.

That same year, the synagogue filed an application with the Westhampton Beach Planning Board, seeking permission to legally convert the living space into an office and catering hall. The synagogue was never fined for the code violation because the alterations did not pose a health and safety issue, and synagogue officials had already made an effort to rectify the issue, Mr. Houlihan said.

The synagogue still needs a special exception permit from Westhampton Beach Village to legally serve food from the home and utilize the building for commercial purposes. The synagogue also requires approval to stray from its original site plan.

Westhampton Beach Village Clerk Kathy McGinnis said she does not know when the Village Board will vote on the revised site plan.

Officials with the Hampton Synagogue did not return calls this week.

The building was never used to house the synagogue’s rabbis, according to Mr. Hulme. Instead, it was utilized as a kitchen to prepare and serve kosher meals, like the kiddish that is served after Saturday services, and as administrative offices, he said.

“We have to catch up with what’s going on at that facility,” Mr. Hulme said, noting that the Westhampton Beach Planning Board approved the new site plan in September.

For about an hour last Thursday, Mr. Hulme addressed concerns raised by both board members and residents, covering issues like outdoor music and the location of a proposed Dumpster. Some residents expressed concerns that the synagogue would eventually convert the dining hall into a commercial catering facility, or construct an addition on the building.

Westhampton Beach Mayor Conrad Teller and Village Board member Toni-Jo Birk asked Mr. Hulme if the synagogue is willing to eliminate outdoor speakers and music. Mr. Houlihan said the synagogue used to host Friday night events and outdoor music had been featured on occasion.

Mr. Hulme said synagogue officials should be fine with prohibiting outdoor music and amplification.

Bennett Brokaw, who lives behind the synagogue, asked that outdoor music be banned altogether, explaining that an event he hosted one summer was ruined because of excessively loud music coming from the synagogue.

“We had to move my barbecue inside because the music was so horrific,” Mr. Brokaw said.

The site plan now up for approval also includes a provision to have a Dumpster, surrounded by a screened fence, located 23 feet from the synagogue’s property line, Mr. Houlihan said. A Dumpster was not allowed in the original site plan, according to Mr. Hulme, though one has been kept in the synagogue’s parking lot.

“The idea of using trash cans did not work well at all,” Mr. Hulme said.

Michael McBride, a Woodland Avenue resident who shares his property line with the synagogue, said the new Dumpster would be too close to his property. He also took issue with the time that it would be emptied, stating that that should be done only on weekdays and during normal business hours.

Mr. McBride also complained about the “hordes of flies” that surround the Dumpster. Mr Houlihan said the new one will have a compacting feature so the garbage does not overflow from it.

Additionally, Mr. Hulme said the dining room will not be used as a commercial catering facility. “They’re not looking to create or get a catering hall,” he said at last week’s meeting.

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No. If I did this I'd be fined up the wazoo and be made to tear it down.
By diogenes (57), westhampton on Nov 11, 09 2:25 PM
Let's imagine a symmetrical situation with a different religious group. Imagine that an Islamic imam without a congregation begins celebrating muslim worship services in a private home in Westhampton Beach. His only other professional gig is subbing for his father, a well-known imam with a mosque in Manhattan. The nouveau imam is cited by the building inspector and forbidden to continue. Then imagine that this becomes a minor cause celebre and results in donations of so much money from wealthy ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Nov 11, 09 2:51 PM
2 members liked this comment
Turn that down. The village is probably worried they'll be sued if they do. That's " The Chosen Ones " usual recourse in such situations.
By PrivateerMatt (390), Weesuck Creek , EQ on Nov 11, 09 4:15 PM
privatematt, are you anti-Semitic? now now... this is a church, and the government can't deny them... ever hear of separation of church and state?
By BIGjimbo12 (201), East Quogue on Nov 11, 09 11:16 PM
Sounds anti-semetic to me.

And if I remember correctly, that's one of the favorite charges made by the Westhampton Rabbi when things don't go his way.
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Nov 13, 09 7:53 AM
They should be fined for making the changes without proper permitting just like any other resident of the village would be fined and they should have to demolish the structure because the improvements and additions were not inspected and approved by the building inspector. They should get no preferential treatment and should be held accountable just like all other residents and organizations in the village are held accountable. If they are allowed to proceed with no repercussions then we have ...more
By sayitaintsojoe (100), Westhampton on Nov 12, 09 11:41 AM
1 member liked this comment
Here's a thought for the Village Board. How about requiring the synagogue to demolish the building and replace it with more synagogue parking? After all, it has never been used for the permitted purpose, (i.e. the rabbi's home), so it isn't needed.

Looking at the photo accompanying the article, the building appears to be quite large. Putting a parking lot in its place would give the synagogue enough parking spaces to make it compliant with zoning requirements.
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Nov 12, 09 1:45 PM
1 member liked this comment
Was that photo removed?
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Nov 13, 09 7:54 AM
To Frank Wheeler:

The accompanying photo can be, "zoomed", to show the property.
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Nov 13, 09 10:16 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Nov 14, 09 8:06 PM
Your Google Foo surpasses my own, I fear.

By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Nov 14, 09 8:07 PM
ooops you mean you caught me?

Now how would it play if the "kitchen" caught fire and the house burend to the ground b/c it did not have a proper ansul system?

sayitaintso joe got it exactly right

By Hambone (514), New York on Nov 12, 09 10:27 PM
The people living there should not be subject to a commercial venture in a residential area. The garbage and its removal is certainly one good point. Additionally, the foot traffic and parking is the other.
By Hambone (514), New York on Jan 20, 10 4:47 PM
RLUIPA prohibits the government from imposing or implementing a land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person, including a religious assembly or institution, unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden on that person, assembly, or institution (A) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (B) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

"[T]he Supreme Court ...more
By Publius (358), Westhampton Beach on Feb 5, 10 2:32 PM