In a sweeping 12 page decision the Suffolk County Supreme Court has invalidated a controversial Village Law that was challenged by the Hedges Inn. The law, enacted in 2018 prohibited local inns, such as the Hedges Inn, which are pre-existing non-conforming uses in residential zones, from holding outdoor tented events.
That year, in a controversial decision, the Village of East Hampton denied permits to the Hedges Inn for four weddings, even though in previous years weddings, bar mitzvahs, graduation parties, etc. were routinely held in tents at the Inn. After a dramatic hearing before the Village Board of Trustees, the law was enacted despite opposition from the inns and other East Hampton Village residents. A temporary accommodation was ultimately reached with the Village to allow the weddings to take place on adjacent residential property owned by the owner of the Hedges Inn.
The Hedges Inn challenged the Village’s denial of permits in the Zoning Board of Appeals, which affirmed the decision of the Building Inspector and Village Administrator denying the permits.
The Hedges Inn sued over the denial by the Zoning Board of Appeals and to challenge the newly enacted Village Code Section 139-15(D), which codified the elimination of tented events at pre-existing inns.
In a decision issued on January 6, 2021, the Court held that the Village violated State Law by enacting a code provision that treated owners in the same Zoning District unequally. The Court stated:
The petitioners contend that Village Law §7-702 prohibits a village, as here, from singling out certain properties in the same zoning district for disparate treatment, and that there is no rational basis for barring special events, outdoors or in tents, at inns and restaurants in the village’s residential districts while allowing such events to be held at residential properties in those districts. The petitioners also note, and it is not contested, that the village continues to permit special events, outdoors and in tents at other properties in the same district, including a church, a farm, a library, and a historical society, even though none of those properties are residential.
The Court finds the respondents’ [Village’s] position untenable. It is incontrovertible that §139-15(D) does not treat all the owners of property in the residential district the same; it is not enough, for purposes of the uniformity requirement, that §139-15(D) treats all owners of the non-conforming business uses in the residential district the same. Even if a rational basis might exist for treating residential property differently from non-residential property, the respondents have articulated no basis – – rational or otherwise – – for distinguishing certain non-residential property from other non-residential property. As to their argument that a legally non-conforming use in a residential district is subject to disparate treatment because it is non-conforming, the record reveals no circumstances particular to the property itself that might justify such treatment.
In reaching its decision the Court accepted the Hedges’ argument that the enactment of Chapter 139 which prohibited inns from having outdoor events was a de facto zoning amendment. Zoning amendments under Village Law §7-702 must treat all properties in a particular zone equally.
The Court refused to dismiss the Hedges claim for damages based on constitutional and federal statutory grounds that they and the other inns were singled out unfairly.
Christopher Kelley of the law firm Twomey, Latham, Shea, Kelley, Dubin & Quartararo, LLP, attorneys for the Hedges Inn said, “We are very thankful that the Court agreed with our arguments that the Hedges Inn was singled out unfairly and unequally from other properties in residential districts. This is in essence a ‘spot zoning’ by treating certain properties different than others. The Court has granted us discovery on our constitutional damage claims. We will now prosecute the rest of the case seeking damages for our clients’ economic loss for not being able to hold outdoor weddings and other events over the last several years.”