By Kathryn G. Menu
A space used for mediation and discussion in the back of the Vajravarahi Buddhist Meditation Center on Hampton Street supports the retail store in the front of the building. That determination is according to a decision levied by the Sag Harbor Village Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) on Tuesday night.
The business, which sells books and tapes meant to educate and enlighten those interested in learning about meditation and Buddhist philosophy and thought, is primarily a bookstore, argued East Hampton attorney Mark Catalano. The meditation and discussion room, he added, simply supports that business.
And the ZBA agreed.
The case came before the ZBA because Sag Harbor Village Building Inspector Tim Platt had determined that the business was violating its certificate of occupancy dating back to 1999 that lists the property as having a “one-story store on the ground floor.”
Specifically being questioned by Platt was whether or not this was truly a retail store, or if it in fact was primarily a meditation center. He also questioned whether or not meditation would qualify as a customary accessory use to a retail store.
Catalano argued that at least half of the Hampton Street space is dedicated solely to books, tapes, as well as candles and other products related to Buddhist meditation.
“I also emphasize this is the retail center for this organization,” said Catalano. “It is not a Buddhist temple, a church — it’s where they have all of their goods for sale with a space set aside for discussing and teaching and learning from these books.”
Catalano argued the space could be viewed similarly as Christian Science bookstores, which are retail centers where books are sold, but space is also set aside for reading and discussion.
Catalano noted that Platt said the space could be characterized as a religious institution, which Catalano said was not appropriate in this case because the space was primarily being used as a bookstore. The owner of the property — the center leases, but does not own the space — would not want the certificate of occupancy changed, he added, as this is a non-conforming use in a residential neighborhood.
Arguing that meditation is not the principal use, as Platt has determined, Catalano noted that when one enters the business “it is floor to ceiling books and CDs.”
Whether meditation is a “customary accessory use,” said Catalano, is not defined specifically in the code, but he argued the space was once used as a pottery store, with the accessory use of making and firing pottery and that was deemed customary.
BookHampton and Canio’s Books — both in Sag Harbor — offer readings, as well as workshops to support their business, said Catalano, wondering why this was any different.
Board member Michael Bromberg noted the ZBA had previously sided with Yoga Shanti in a similar case when the studio, then located on Washington Street, operated a retail store, which was successful, but also hosted yoga classes. The ZBA agreed in that case the classes were accessory to the primary retail use.
The rest of the board agreed, declaring this business was not a religious institution, but a retail store, to applause in the audience.
A formal decision will be levied at the board’s February 19 meeting at 6:30 p.m.
Also expected to be formally approved with a decision next month is Denise and Mark Roeloff’s application for relief to allow them to renovate their 40 Denison Road home. The Roeloffs needed relief from the village code for a 26.36 foot side yard set back where a minimum of 30 feet are required in the code and a variance to locate an air conditioner 10 feet from the side lot line, where 15 feet are required.
The Roeloffs brought letters of support from neighboring property owners, and noted the air conditioner unit was facing a property that has 75 feet of woods separating their backyard from the Roeloffs side yard.
Allan and Tamara Houston, at 11 Harding Terrace, were approved for lot coverage variances to allow for the redevelopment of that property. A controversial proposal, to build a pool on the edge of a bluff, was removed from the application, paving the way for the board’s approval.
Lastly, Kleinberg & Simon, at 36 John Street, were granted a variance to construct a patio and 7 by 12 foot swim spa pool within 11 feet of the west lot line of their property, where a minimum of 15 feet is required.