The operators of a historic inn are suing East Hampton Village over alleged attempts to prevent the inn from hosting outdoor tented weddings.
On March 15, 2018, village officials denied six large-assembly permit applications for events at The Hedges Inn, which is in a residential neighborhood on James Lane, including a wedding scheduled just 16 days later. Village officials said in the denial letter sent to manager Jenn Lilja that outdoor dining is outside the scope of the property’s zoning and certificate of occupancy.
Lilja said the denials were unexpected. The lawsuit notes that 14 event permits, including for those in outdoor and tented spaces, had been issued to the inn — which is on the National Register of Historic Places — since 2001.
“It was just brutal,” Lilja said of the families' reactions. “Some of the families were locals that we’ve known forever.”
The permit denials were issued before the village adopted an April 20 code change that institutes new restrictions on special events. The code now prohibits special events held outdoors or in a tent on a “property containing a legally pre-existing nonconforming business use in a residential district.” The suit claims The Hedges Inn is the only such parcel in its zone and alleges the change is “illegal spot zoning.”
The lawsuit names the village, the Board of Trustees, the Zoning Board of Appeals and building inspector Kenneth Collum. It asks the court to overturn the code change, reverse the building inspector’s 2018 permit denial, reimburse the Hedges’ attorney fees and award damages as it sees fit.
Lilja, attorney Chris Kelley, of the Riverhead-based firm Twomey, Latham, Shea, Kelley, Dubin and Quartararo LLP, and family members of brides and grooms spoke out against the denials during village board meetings last year. The Hedges opted to host the wedding receptions on an adjacent private property, which after restroom, tent and cooking equipment rentals, cost the business about $100,000, Lilja said.
The lawsuit also alleges that most complaints about the inn were from its James Lane neighbors, Peter and Patricia Handal, who have publicly criticized events at the inn as being too loud for the residential neighborhood.
“The Village will defend itself in any lawsuit that seeks to invalidate or make inconsistent any provisions of the Zoning Code,” village administrator Rebecca Molinaro Hansen wrote in an email.
Lilja said the Hedges has not booked any 2019 events but hopes to have the matter resolved before the 2020 season.
“We’re weary to enter into a contract on a very important day in someone’s life,” she said.