Last month, we reported on the New York State Supreme Court decision that held the Town of Southampton, New York erroneously applied its sign ordinance to East End Eruv Association’s (“EEEA”) proposed eruv, which EEEA seeks to erect on utility poles through Southampton and nearby municipalities. An eruv is “a largely invisible unbroken demarcation of an area.” Within an eruv, Jewish residents may push or carry objects in the public domain on Sabbath and Yom Kippur, which they would be unable to do without an eruv.
In the state court case, Judge Farnetti found as irrational and unreasonable the Town Building Inspector’s decision that lechis are signs subject to the municipality’s sign ordinance (lechis are wooden or PVC strips that form the boundary of the eruv). Although Southampton filed a notice of appeal in state court, it has now formally voted not to appeal the decision, 27east.com, O’Dwyer’s, and Religion Clause report. According to Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, the Town felt it was time to “cut its losses.”
“Well, we felt that we had made our point, which was solely based on the interpretation by our Building Department that it represented a violation to our sign code, and that is really the only reason we opposed it….. But the court struck that down, so we made the decision not to appeal and to bring to an end what has been a very long and costly piece of litigation that was, again, solely geared toward the interpretation of our sign laws.”
According to 27east, the Town and EEEA have not yet reached a comprehensive settlement. Additionally, EEEA’s case against Southampton, Westhampton Beach and the Village of Quogue remains pending in the Eastern District of New York (Case 2:11-cv-00213-AKT). The Town believes that once the federal case is dropped and a final settlement is reached, it will no longer be at risk to pay EEEA’s attorney fees and costs. As we have noted in the past, religious land use litigation is costly and time consuming. When faced with the threat of suit, local governments may wish to think long and hard about whether a legal battle is worth the time, money and effort, or whether a compromise is possible.