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Jun 6, 2016 4:18 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Eruv Settlement Approved In Westhampton Beach

The Hampton Synagogue BY ERIN MCKINLEY
Jun 7, 2016 3:44 PM

First, it was Southampton Town. Next up was Quogue Village. And, last week, Westhampton Beach Village followed suit.

Months after being offered a settlement mirroring those offered—and ultimately accepted—by both the town and Quogue, the Westhampton Beach Village Board unanimously agreed last Thursday night, June 2, to sign off on a resolution that drops all objections to a religious boundary, called an eruv, that caters to the most religious of Orthodox Jews, and was actually established two summers earlier in the village.

Yehudah Buchweitz, the Manhattan-based attorney representing the East End Eruv Association, the group that has been pushing for the boundary’s establishment for years, confirmed that the settlement with Westhampton Beach Village signals the end of all eruv litigation.

“It shouldn’t have taken this long, but I am glad that it is over for the people who need the eruv,” Mr. Buchweitz said on Tuesday. “We are very happy with the settlement—we won everything.”

Specifically, the Village Board, as per last week’s adopted resolution, cannot prevent a utility company from attaching markers—in this case, thin strips of plastic that will serve as boundary markers—to utility poles within Westhampton Beach. Both the town and Quogue Village argued in vain that the markers, called lechis, would have violated sign ordinances in their respective municipalities, arguments that were later dismissed by the courts and resulted in both accepting similar settlements.

The latest settlement means that Westhampton Beach Village, which has already spent more than $125,000 in legal fees over the past nine years on litigation related to the boundary, called an eruv, will avoid paying what could have added up to millions of dollars in fees paid to the attorneys representing the applicant, the East End Eruv Association, or EEEA.

The EEEA sued Westhampton Beach even though it never filed an eruv application with the village, and also lacks sign ordinances similar to the town or Quogue Village. EEEA representatives previously stated that they sued Westhampton Beach due to the prior reluctance of village officials to entertain an application, namely the original one submitted by the only house of worship that benefits from the eruv, the Hampton Synagogue on Sunset Avenue in Westhampton Beach.

If the village had not agreed to the settlement, and the EEEA was victorious in its suit, the EEEA would have sought the reimbursement of legal fees from Westhampton Beach—a figure that was expected to total millions of dollars even though the EEEA’s attorneys were working pro bono for the synagogue.

“Unlike other agreements entered by other municipalities, this one does not contain any religious terms and there is a specific declaration that no religious boundary is being created or recognized by the village,” Westhampton Beach Mayor Maria Moore said after the resolution was unanimously approved last week.

According to a copy of the settlement shared by Ms. Moore on Monday evening, after both parties signed the document, the village cannot object to the “attachment, existence, restoration, maintenance and repair” of the boundary markers. The decision also makes clear that the installation and maintenance of the lechis—identified only as “attachments” in the settlement—cannot be paid for using the village’s money. It does note that the Village Police will be responsible for guarding the lechis, as they would for any other signs that are legally placed on utility poles.

The document also makes it clear that by signing the agreement, the village is not endorsing the eruv or any specific religion—a sticking point that boundary opponents have focused on for years. They had argued that the village should not be asked to entertain such an application because any approval would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits governing bodies from giving one religion preferential treatment over another.

The settlement appears to sidestep that issue by omitting specific wording: “The settlement of this case is not a recognition or endorsement of any religion or religious boundary by the Village of Westhampton Beach.”

Ms. Moore did note that her village’s accord differs from those signed by the town and Quogue Village in that her board was not required to acknowledge the boundary—it has simply agreed not to interfere with the installation of the lechis on utility poles, markers that EEEA supporters say were installed two summers ago.

Likewise, Westhampton Beach Attorney Brian Sokoloff said the accord does not acknowledge any religious institutions or affiliations; rather, it simply notes that the village cannot interfere with the placement of markers on utility poles.

According to the adopted resolution, the settlement specifies that Westhampton Beach Village is not creating a religious boundary, and that the one previously created did not have municipal approval. The settlement, as per the resolution, is void of all religious phrases and terms.

“Resolved that the Village of Westhampton Beach is, and shall remain, a community that is open and welcoming to all people, regardless of race, religion or national origin,” the resolution reads.

The decision to accept the settlement did not sit well with all village residents.

Jack O’Dwyer, a local blogger, urged the board not to sign off on the settlement without sharing its contents with the public first.

“This whole agreement is invalid,” Mr. O’Dwyer said during the public comment portion of last week’s meeting. “You’re not even showing it to us. You have trampled on the rights of residents of Westhampton Beach, you have trampled on our American rights, on the Constitution, and what the citizens need.”

Ms. Moore reaffirmed that the settlement will be made available to the public after it had been signed by both herself and the EEEA. That document, as well as the stipulation of dismissal, were released to the public and posted on the village website late Monday night.

The agreement signals the end to all eruv litigation, and will allow the EEEA to expand the current boundary so it also includes Quiogue, which falls within Southampton Town, and a portion of Quogue Village. The eruv currently encompasses all of Westhampton Beach, though many still question its existence since the lechis are not visible, and EEEA officials have declined to identify them.

The eruv was first discussed in February 2008 when the Hampton Synagogue filed an application to create a smaller religious boundary in the village. The synagogue would later withdraw the application while facing considerable backlash from the community, and never followed through on its plan to resubmit a revised application later that same year.

Three years later, in 2011, the EEEA picked up the fight on behalf of the synagogue to install the boundary that allows devout Orthodox Jews to do certain activities otherwise forbidden on the Sabbath, including pushing a stroller or wheelchair, and carrying around their house keys. The EEEA was the entity that proposed extending the boundary beyond Westhampton Beach and into parts of Quogue Village and the hamlet of Quiogue.

The boundary was created two summers ago, when U.S. District Court Judge Kathleen Tomlinson ruled that Westhampton Beach Village could not prevent the EEEA from contracting with Verizon and the Long Island Power Authority to utilize their poles for the lechis.

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This is reporter Jack O’Dwyer who finds some flaws in Erin McKinley’s article.

For one, I am not a “local blogger” but the owner and editor of the 48-year-old O’Dwyer Co. whose website is picked up throughout the U.S. and in as many as 170 foreign countries in a month. Unique visitors average 50,000 to 60,000 monthly.

Our monthly magazine published 692 pages last year and our May 2016 issue had 96 pages. We publish the only printed directory in all ...more
By JackO'Dwyer (16), New York on Jun 9, 16 11:52 AM