The doings of the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals rarely rise to the level of dinnertime conversation, but that has not been the case this week, as people across town seem to have taken a keen interest in a hearing that pits a woman who owns a dog walking/sitting business against her neighbors.
Lori Marsden, who operates the service out of her home in Northwest Woods, has run afoul of a handful of neighbors who say they fear the dogs she walks could get loose and harm their children. Plus, they say they don’t like to listen to barking dogs all day.
Because this dispute centers on dogs, it is automatically a hot topic in a community that holds its canine companions in such high regard that even the mere discussion years ago of a possible leash law resulted in a fierce backlash.
But this case is even more interesting because it appears to turn on an interpretation of the code by the town’s chief building inspector that could make just about any home business illegal. Ann Glennon, the town’s chief building inspector, has ruled that the town code requires that there should be “no external evidence of the activity, including audible noise” from any home business.
That their business is illegal would come as a surprise to any of the many other dog sitters in town, whose neighbors don’t object to their activities one bit. As Marsden’s attorney, Carl Irace, has pointed out, Glennon’s interpretation of the code could be taken to extremes that could have dire consequences for anyone who runs a business out of their home.
A piano teacher could find herself in hot water if a beginning student practices scales in her home when the windows are open. Say goodbye to that cabinetmaker next door whose planer can be heard from his garage workshop. What about babysitters? Should neighbors have to put up with parents dropping their children off at day care each morning and picking them up each afternoon? And what if those kids should sing or laugh when they play outside?
Marsden’s neighbors may have a point: Her business could be a nuisance. And one would hope the town code would have ample ways to deal with noise, the possibility of dogs getting loose, or any other problems it could cause. But if the ZBA rules that Glennon’s interpretation of the code is, in fact, correct, it’s time for the town board to step in and fix a potential problem that could have disastrous impacts on the local economy.