The proposed Hamptons eruv has moved a step closer to becoming a reality after a state judge directed the Town of Southampton Zoning Board of Appeals to permit it.
Acting Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Joseph Farneti ruled June 30 that the board was wrong when it affirmed a town inspector’s opinion that lechis are signs that fall within the town’s sign ordinance. Lechis are wooden or plastic strips affixed to telephone and utility poles to form the boundaries of an eruv, within which observant Jews may carry items on the Sabbath. The association had sought to put 28 of the lechis — which just over half an inch wide and blend in to the color of the poles — at 15 locations.
Such a finding is “irrational and unreasonable in that it does not comport with the sign ordinance’s intent,” the judge wrote. “The Court finds that the boundaries are invisible as the lechis are not discernable. … Neither drivers nor casual observers would be able to differentiate the poles which have lechis attached from the other poles.”
Farneti added: “It is well-settled that, while religious institutions are not exempt from local zoning laws, greater flexibility is required in evaluating an application for a religious use and every effort to accommodate the religious use must be made.”
Yehudah Buchweitz of Weill, Gotschal & Manges, the pro bono lawyer representing the East End Eruv Association, which brought the suit, told The Jewish Week that the town might decide to appeal but that this was another step.
“We are building blocks for victory,” he said.
The association had sought to erect an eruv in the Hamptons that would encompass parts of the Town of Southampton and the villages of Quogue and Westhampton Beach. All three municipalities blocked the move and the association sued them in January 2011.
But because the Village of Westhampton did not have a sign ordinance, it permitted the erection of an eruv about a year ago. The eruv has not been extended west or east because of the two pending cases.
Buchweitz said he hoped Farneti’s decision “will help” as he continues to pursue the case.
In addition, he noted that there were other court decisions — including federal rulings — that have also supported the association and that he hoped they would be applied to the pending cases.