The approval of four tent permits for a home said to be owned by the owner of The Hedges Inn — one of several historic inns barred from hosting big parties in residential areas under proposed code changes — had tongues wagging at last week’s work session of the East Hampton Village Board of Trustees.
Hedges neighbor Patricia Handal successfully sued the inn restricting the venue from serving food outside and has raised concerns in recent months over its use for large-scale parties and weddings outdoors. The granting of a permit for a tent wedding over Easter weekend had Handal and her counsel, Amanda Star Frazer, questioning how a residential property could be allowed to host an allegedly commercial event when it is not allowed under the current zoning code.
Handal likened the inn’s changes in business to that of “stealth expansion” and expressed concerns about similar parties moving to large residential venues like the big white house at the corner of Rte. 27, which could be used by the other inns.
“I, as a private citizen of East Hampton, who take it as a privilege — it’s a privilege, it is such a special place — I worry about the stealth expansion and what is next for our wonderful village,” she said.
Frazer said it was to her understanding that the owner of the home is the same as The Hedges Inn and wanted assurance the situation was a “one-off.” She also wanted assurance properties would adhere to their zoning districts preventing non-conforming commercial uses from shifting next door to residential properties, noting there are several cases throughout the village where the same situation could occur.
She encouraged the board to consider how other municipalities are handling the situation and urged against one-day commercial uses for a fee.
“That’s the concern that has arisen based on the last week or so of events, and we ask the board to consider that and shore that up in the existing code, so that moving forward, we don’t have a situation where we have pop-up weddings or pop-up commercial events that take place for one day only on residential properties,” she said.
“That wouldn’t be in keeping with the purpose of the proposed Chapter 139, which is to preserve the peace and quiet of the residential district, and certainly moving a commercial one-day event over from a non-conforming commercial property to a neighboring residential property doesn’t affect that purpose, it flies against it,” Frazer continued.
Village Administrator Becky Molinaro Hansen said last Friday four tent permits were granted to 72 James Lane LLC, the property adjacent to The Hedges Inn. The owner of the property could not be determined by deadline.
Attorney Linda Margolin, who is representing several private property owners, including Leonard Ackerman, Charles Phillips, Ron Baron, and Ted Williams, compared the proposed code changes to a shotgun marriage of three different objectives in the village. The objectives included the regulation of mass assemblages on public property, and the “activities” of historic inns that use the availability of permits to circumvent zoning, as well as on private properties.
“And, because of that, like many shotgun marriages, in my opinion, it doesn’t work particularly well,” she said.
Attorney Christopher Kelley, who is representing The Hedges Inn, agreed with Margolin and once again called for the board not to adopt the proposed legislation.
At least one resident requested if he could start using his property as a commercial venue, but not before Mayor Paul Rickenbach suggested the conversation stay focused. He said the village has been grappling with the dilemma of how to deal with pre-existing non-conforming uses.
“We understand the emotion and sensitivity that’s attendant to this hearing and just give us a little bit of credit, if you would, to try to examine all the input and the factual matters of record and constitutional issues, where we can come up with the right determination,” he said.
The hearing was kept open for written comments until 4 PM on Wednesday, April 11.