Meditation OK'd under bookstore zoning

Gen Norden, a Buddhist nun, sits in the Gen Norden, a Buddhist nun, sits in the meditation room at the Vajravarahi Book Store. (Jan. 21, 2013) Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

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One business in Sag Harbor can breathe easy these days.

That's because it is now legal to meditate in a local bookstore, but that took time -- and a ruling from the Village Zoning Board of Appeals.

The decision earlier this month ends a tangled journey by the Vajravarahi Meditation Center, which moved into the village from Hampton Bays because it wanted more space for its bookstore and its programs.

In March, the Meditation Center was cautioned by the village building inspector that while local zoning allowed for religious use at its house at 112 Hampton St., it would have to apply and get permission for such a use from the village planning board.

That began a twisted trip through red tape.

After six months, the village and the center failed to reach agreement on the application, and an appearance ticket charging unlawful use of the building was filed against the center on Sept. 5.

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One unrelated but serious problem was that the building could accommodate more than 50 people for its programs, a crowd big enough to violate fire code.

That problem was eliminated when the center worked with the village fire marshal to bring the building's capacity to fewer than 50 people.

Then, the center moved to a new path, seeking to be classified as a bookstore with an accessory use of meditation -- the center offers meditation classes -- and was told that a bookstore would clearly be a permitted use, but that meditation might be a problem.

Village code allows stores to conduct only one business, and sometimes allows a second business operation, provided it is a use related to the primary business purpose.

"I do not find that classes for meditation on a regular basis would be something customarily accessory to a bookstore," building inspector Timothy R. Platt wrote to the center on Dec. 28. "This would be in stark contrast to an event where perhaps an author of a book on meditation appeared to do a signing and lead a one-time class of meditation. I would find that to be an accessory use."

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As the process went on, there was an outpouring of community support for the center from Sag Harbor residents.

Roisin Bateman, the center's next-door neighbor, wrote to the zoning board of appeals to say: "I have only positive experiences with them. I enjoy their wonderful bookstore and talks. As neighbors, they are quiet and considerate, and are a positive asset to the neighborhood."

David Gorman, who lives on Jermain Avenue near the center, said it was an "exemplary neighbor" that attracted wonderful guests.

Alfred Tuff, administrator of the center, said he was pleased with the decision.

He said that before they moved in, the two-story house with a white picket fence had been used in several ways, including an antique store.

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