Bayville at odds over American Legion outdoor wedding ceremonies

Vincent Libertini, commander of American Legion Post 1285 Vincent Libertini, commander of American Legion Post 1285 in Bayville, in the outside waterfront patio area behind the post's building. (Aug. 8, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

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Residents in Bayville are at odds over a proposal to allow the local American Legion to hold outdoor wedding ceremonies -- the only way, legion officials say, to save their post.

Both sides presented arguments during a spirited meeting last week of the village's Zoning Board of Appeals on whether the Bayville American Legion Robert H. Spittel Post 1285 should be granted a special exemption.

"If this saves a building where the Legionnaires have a real sense of emotion ... I think the board should consider it," said the legion's attorney, Jeffrey D. Forchelli of Uniondale.

Legion members say renting out the space is their only source of income; the legion uses the money to provide local scholarships, donate to nearby institutions and pay bills.

"We need this to stay open," said post commander Vincent Libertini. The legion, whose Bayville Avenue property looks out on Long Island Sound, has rented its facility to catering businesses since 1979. The most recent tenant, the WaterView Club, was evicted in April because it owed about $200,000 in back taxes, back rent and utility payments.

The original variance allowing a catering business to operate on the grounds was signed in 1979 and bans outdoor ceremonies. The ban, legion officials say, is a deal-breaker for potential catering tenants. WaterView, legion officials and Bayville residents say, routinely held wedding ceremonies outdoors in defiance of the ban.

Michael Ryan, who lives with his wife, Alice, on the property west of the legion hall, told the board last week that some weddings there turn into raucous parties where drunken drivers clog the road and shout profanities at neighbors.

Libertini said the Legion will impose restrictions on whatever tenant takes over the site. It will not allow amplified music outside, limit outdoor ceremonies to one hour and hold all receptions indoors. No ceremony will start after 7 p.m., he said.

George Ford, 69, a Vietnam veteran, is among those with a special attachment to the building. After the land was donated to the American Legion in 1959 by the village, members built it themselves.

Some residents said they support the legion's request for an exemption for outdoor ceremonies. Forchelli presented the zoning board with what he said was more than 300 signatures for a petition in favor of the request.

"Done right, I would love to see them," said Lucia Marino, who lives on the property to the east. "It's not a loud party, it's a happy wedding."

The board said it will schedule a second hearing and asked the legion to provide more documents on its finances and explain how it will make the next tenant comply with the new rules.

A vote likely would follow in October, when the legion says it will run out of money. The veterans are considering other ways to raise funds.

"Having an American Legion post is something that belongs in a village that in my opinion is Americana," said ex-mayor Victoria Siegel, whose husband is a legion member. "I hope it can be worked out."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Victoria Siegel's last name.

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