The Hedges Inn (Hedges Inn) is a pre-existing, nonconforming, historic inn with 14 rooms and a restaurant at 74 James Lane in the Village of East Hampton (Village) in the R160 Residence District. In February 2018, Hedges Inn submitted permit applications to the Village for four weddings to be held outdoors in tents at the property between March and September. The Village denied the applications stating, “the proposed events violate the Zoning Code in that outdoor dining is not a permitted use of the premises in your zoning district and under your Certificate of Occupancy.” The Village also denied the Hedges tent permits for the events. In March of 2018, the Village of East Hampton considered the enactment of Village Code §139-15(D) prohibiting a special event from being held “in whole or in part outdoors or in a tent on property containing a legally pre-existing nonconforming business use in a residential district.” The local law was adopted by the Village Board of Trustees and became effective October 1, 2018, effectively prohibiting outdoor special events from occurring at the Hedges Inn.

In response, Hedges brought a hybrid article 78 proceeding and action for declaratory relief entitled The Hedges Inn, LLC v. Village of East Hampton Zoning Board of Appeals et al., Index No. 201-2019 dated January 6, 2021, seeking to overturn the Village’s actions. Hedges Inn claimed that holding outdoor special events, including weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, graduation and anniversary parties had always been a customary accessory use of the inn property, stating that from 2001-2017, “Hedges Inn submitted no fewer than 14 applications for, and subsequently obtained, permits from the Village for outdoor tented events at the property.” Hedges further claimed that the local law amendment impermissibly targeted the inn as a pre-existing, nonconforming, business use alleging that the Village enacted what is effectively a zoning amendment (outside of the zoning code and without following zoning code amendment procedure) exceeding the powers delegated to it under New York State law. Moreover, Hedges argued that the enactment of Village Code §139-15(D) violated New York State Village Law §7-702 which requires that “all zoning regulations be uniform for each class or kind of buildings within a district.”

First, the Court determined the Article 78 Proceeding was moot emphasizing that the proposed special events had passed, and that the Village had allowed the events to take place on adjacent residential properties owned by the principals of Hedges Inn. The Court also found that the matter did not fall within any exception to the doctrine of mootness that would allow the Court to adjudicate the Article 78 challenge. Finally the Court noted there was no evidentiary basis in the record to determine whether holding special events outdoors or in tents was a customary accessory use of the property.

Finding  that Hedges had standing to bring the action, the Court then found that Village Code section 139-15 (D) was, in fact, a zoning amendment since it related directly to the physical use of land and the potential impact of such use on neighboring properties, citing (see Louhal Props.v Strada, 191 Misc 2d 746, 743 NYS2d 810 [2002), affd 307 AD2d 1029, 763 NYS2d 773 [2003]). Upon finding that the enactment of the special events code was a zoning amendment, the Court declared the code amendment invalid as a matter of law stating:

[T]he court finds, as a matter of law, that section 139-15 (D) is invalid because it was enacted in violation of Village Law § 7-702, which authorizes the adoption of zoning regulations and the division of a village into districts but provides that “such regulations shall be uniform for each class or kind of buildings, throughout such district but the regulations in one district may differ from those in other districts.”

In matters of zoning, a uniformity requirement such as the one set forth in Village Law § 7-702 (and in Town Law § 262 and General City Law § 20 [24]) “is intended to assure property holders that all owners in the same district will be treated alike and that there will be no improper discrimination(Matter of Augenblick v Town of Cortlandt, 104 AD2d 806, 814, 480 NYS2d 232, 239 [1984] [Lazer, J.P., dissenting], rev’d. on dissenting mem 66 NY2d 775, 497 NYS2d 363 [1985]). “In other words, although zoning regulations obviously may vary from district to district, regulations must apply uniformly throughout any particular district” (Terry Rice, Practice Commentaries, McKinney’s Cons Laws of NY, Village Law § 7-702). “Where specialized circumstances exist for certain property within a district the uniformity rule may be bent,” but “[a]n ordinance will be held to uniformity if the record does not disclose any reasonable basis for different treatment among similar parcels within a district” (Matter of Augenblick v Town of Cortlandt, supra at 814, 480 NYS2d at 239). Although the failure to observe a uniformity requirement will result in invalidation of a zoning provision , it is not a bar to fashioning appropriate zoning regulations to satisfy a community’s needs; it generally does not interfere with the ability of a board of trustees to impose conditions on the rezoning of a parcel of property if such conditions are related to and incidental to the use of the property and intended to minimize any adverse impact on the surrounding area, and is not a bar to authorization of a use upon issuance of a special permit (Terry Rice, Practice Commentaries, McKinney’s Cons Laws of NY, Village Law § 7-702) (emphasis added).

In applying the uniformity requirement to the local law enacting Village Code §139-15(D), the Court found that the Village failed to articulate a rational basis in the record to support treating the Hedges property differently than other non-residential property. The Village argued that the business use was a pre-existing, nonconforming use in a residentially zoned district but the Court found such argument unpersuasive stating,

“[a]s to their argument that a legally nonconforming use in a residential district is subject to disparate treatment because it is nonconforming, the record reveals no circumstances particular to the property itself that might justify such treatment. “What is required for differential treatment is that the land be uniquely situated” (Matter of Augenblick v Town of Cortlandt, supra at 815, 480 NYS2d at 239). Nor does their argument seem to take into account that pre-existing nonconforming uses are, in fact, approved uses whose legal protections extend to their customary accessory uses (see Incorporated Village of Old Westbury v. Alljay Farms, 64 NY2d 798, 486 NYS2d 916 [1985)).”

Finally, the Court found that the Village’s procedural enactment Village Code §139-15(D) had failed to follow Municipal Home Rule Law §22(1) to specifically supersede Village Law section 7-702. The Court granted Hedges Inn summary judgment declaring that Village Code §139-15(D) was invalid and unenforceable.