A Shelter Island resident is taking the town to court over what he says is a "harassment campaign" against him and claims the town treated a local nonprofit better for allowing Beyoncé to film portions of her movie and musical album "Black is King" on its property.
Michael Gaynor filed an Article 78 proceeding against the town, the town board and the Community Preservation Fund advisory board electronically in state Supreme Court on Sept. 22, alleging he was targeted for clearing non-native trees on his property.
An Article 78 proceeding is a request for judges to overturn or stay a government action, in this case FOIL denials. Among Gaynor’s harassment claims are that the town unlawfully denied Freedom of Information Law requests in August and issued a code violation in January that he said was later thrown out.
Additionally, Gaynor, 55, alleges the town allowed Beyoncé to film scenes for "Black is King" at Sylvester Manor Educational Farm, a former plantation and the site of a slave burying ground, without a permit in 2019. The album premiered July 31 on the Disney+ streaming service. According to an email included as an exhibit in the case, no permit was issued for the filming.
"You’re getting abused by the town and neighbors, you’re getting written up bogus violations and your next-door neighbor gets to do whatever they want," said Gaynor’s Sag Harbor attorney, Alex Kriegsman. "He finds the nature of what happened there very distasteful."
Gaynor is seeking answers to his information requests and other damages.
Richard Zuckerman, an attorney with the Melville firm Lamb & Barnosky LLP, which is representing the town, said officials did not know about the filming until it was written about in a local newspaper this summer. Instead, he said Gaynor’s gripes stem from the town Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board’s Sept. 17 decision against purchasing development rights on a property he owned.
"This case was filed because the town refused his demand that they pay $2 million to buy property from him that the town didn’t want at that price," Zuckerman said. "Everything flows from there."
Disney purchased the film after it was already produced, so it would not have authority over filming locations. Representatives for Beyoncé could not be reached for comment.
Sylvester Manor in an August Instagram post said it was proud that the manor is part of the national conversation surrounding Black history.
"We believe Beyonce chose our site understanding the cultures who lived and worked together at Sylvester Manor and the importance they have played in the Manor’s nearly 400 year history," the post reads.