New Adjustments to Party Permit Rules

As East Hampton Village continued to refine the language of a proposed law governing special events, proponents and critics of the measure voiced their concerns at a trustee meeting last Thursday, and Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. announced that, after nearly two months of debate, the public hearing phase of the discussion would be coming to an end as of 4 p.m. yesterday.

The proposed law, which was first introduced on Feb. 16, seeks to replace the village’s current mass assembly statute with a more stringent policy that would require permits for any gathering of 50 or more people held at a private residence, and prevent commercial properties — including pre-existing businesses such as the village’s inns — in residential neighborhoods from holding events outdoors or in tents. 

Highlighting some of the recent changes to the law, Becky Molinaro Hansen, the village administrator, said that a provision had been removed that would have allowed warrantless searches of properties that were granted a special events permit, as a means of ensuring compliance. Instead, the law calls for a notice of violation to be submitted to the property owner or whoever is in charge of the gathering. 

The current iteration of the law also provides some leeway on the requirement that a permit application be filed at least 21 days in advance of an event. Now, the law states that the village should be given as much notice as is “practicable under the circumstances.” That change should be welcomed by opponents who said the law would infringe on the rights of homeowners to receive visitors after, say, the death of a loved one.

Another new provision states that if an applicant is denied a permit, the village must provide a reason for the denial in writing. 

Ever since the special events law was introduced, the question of whether the Hedges Inn should be allowed to hold large tented events on its property has been a major focus of the debate. Although the village had approved permits for such events in recent years, on March 15 it reversed course and denied permits for four weddings that were scheduled to take place at the inn in 2018. Then, on March 21, it signed off on a tent permit for an event taking place at 72 James Lane, a private residence adjacent to the Hedges Inn and reportedly owned by the same owner. 

The village’s zigzagging left Patricia Handal, a James Lane resident who has been an outspoken critic of events at the Hedges Inn, exasperated. “I’m very puzzled,” Ms. Handal said at the meeting. She referenced a series of court decisions in the early 2000s that stated that the Hedges Inn’s “utilization of the patio for outdoor dining was not a proper accessory use.” In an email sent earlier this week, Ms. Handal wrote, “I’m sad to think that an issue that was settled by the highest court in New York State is still being debated.”

At the board meeting on March 16, Christopher Kelley, the lawyer for the Hedges Inn, pointed out that the court decisions in question only referred to the use of the patio, and did not encompass special events. Furthermore, he said, the village, up until March 15, seemingly agreed that special events were not off limits because they had issued the inn numerous special event permits. 

Ms. Handal said that she discovered that a wedding would be taking place at 72 James Lane over the Easter weekend by reading a newspaper report. In order to avoid the aggravation the wedding would cause, she said she and her husband decided to go out of town rather than follow their usual Holy Week routine of attending services at Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church. That was “a decision we should not have had to make,” Ms. Handal said.  

Amanda Star Frazer, a lawyer representing the Handals, expressed concern to the board that the village’s granting of a permit to 72 James Lane would send the wrong message to homeowners who might be eager to get into the business of hosting weddings. “I don’t think it was the village’s intent to allow residential properties in the village to turn themselves into commercial wedding venues,” said Ms. Frazer. “We’re asking the board to clarify that in this new proposed law, so that this doesn’t happen again.”

Opposition to the law was also expressed by Linda Margolin, a lawyer representing several private property owners including Leonard Ackerman, an attorney who frequently appears before the board. Calling the proposed law “deeply flawed and not constitutional,” Ms. Margolin said that it would impinge on the customary uses — such as the right to entertain guests and engage in recreational activities — that come with owning a home. “In the Hamptons, where so much goes on during the summer season, it is clearly a customary accessory use to entertain guests outdoors,” she said.  

“We understand the emotion and the sensitivity that’s attendant to this hearing,” Mayor Rickenbach said afterward. “We’re trying to do the right thing. The key issue here is pre-existing nonconforming locations.”

In other business, the board announced that a proposed law governing the construction of pool houses would be introduced at an upcoming work session. The law, whose objective is to prevent the structures from turning into second dwellings, would require that pool houses be limited to one room for all future conversions or new construction. The law would also prevent pool houses from having heating, insulation or air-conditioning. Indoor showers would also be prohibited; interior plumbing would be limited to a sink plus one powder room. The law would also require that pool houses be permitted only on properties where a swimming pool already exists.