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Safe Harbor Retreat, LLC v. Town of East Hampton

United States District Court, E.D. New York

March 2, 2015

SAFE HARBOR RETREAT, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF EAST HAMPTON, NEW YORK, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

LEONARD D. WEXLER, District Judge.

Plaintiff Safe Harbor Retreat, LLC ("Safe Harbor") brings this action for alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act ("FHA"), 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq., and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., against defendants Town of East Hampton (the "Town") and the Town's Zoning Board of Appeals ("ZBA"). Defendants move to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("FRCP") 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Safe Harbor opposes the motion.[1]

I. BACKGROUND

For purposes of this decision, the complaint can be summarized as follows. In December 2009, Safe Harbor founder Joseph McKinsey ("McKinsey") met with then-Town Supervisor William Wilkinson ("Supervisor Wilkinson") to discuss a proposed "executive retreat" for persons suffering from alcoholism and other forms of substance abuse. Complaint ¶ 19. Safe Harbor proposed locating the retreat at 26 Bull Run, East Hampton (the "Premises"), placing it in an A-3 zoning district. Id.; Declaration of Brian Sokoloff, Esq., dated August 29, 2104 ("Sokoloff Decl."), Ex. B. Supervisor Wilkinson expressed his support and McKinsey was eventually referred to Senior Building Inspector Thomas Preiato ("BI Preiato"). Complaint ¶ 19. BI Preiato toured the Premises in February 2010 and McKinsey detailed the plans for the retreat. Id. ¶ 20, 24. The following day, McKinsey summarized these plans in a letter to BI Preiato:

[The residents] will reside in the property as a family unit under strict house rules and with 24 hour supervision. The group will live and cook together as a single housekeeping unit. The suggested length of stay is eleven months, as this is the length of time that has proven to be most successful as a foundation for continued sobriety. All residents will be prescreened and completely detoxified prior to their arrival. Any and all psychological treatment will be arranged with local professionals at locations zoned for such use. Residents will not be permitted to have their own vehicles. Finally, residents will be introduced to 12 step programs in the area and encouraged to use this fellowship as a bridge back to life.

Id. ¶ 25. According to Safe Harbor, this letter constituted a request for a "reasonable accommodation" under the FHA, and for Safe Harbor's "residents" to be treated as a "family" as defined by the Town Code. Id. ¶ 26.[2] McKinsey sent a second letter to BI Preiato, dated March 1, 2010, providing a written description of the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse ("OASAS") "community residential services" designation, the license Safe Harbor was seeking and was ultimately granted later that year. Id. ¶ 29.[3] In a March 4, 2010 letter, BI Preiato determined that Safe Harbor met the criteria of "functioning as a family unit" pursuant to sections 255-1-20 (Family) and 255-8-50 (Occupancy by a family). Id. ¶ 31. BI Preiato stated:

I have researched the Zoning Code and have determined that zoning requirements will... be met based on the content of your letter and our conversations with regards to the number of residents. It is apparent that overcrowding issues should not be an issue, nor should the number of vehicles pose a problem as you have indicated that the residents will not have their own vehicles.

Id. ¶ 32 (emphasis omitted).

As a result of BI Preiato's determination, Safe Harbor claims to have expended significant funds and effort to establish the Premises as a community residence for individuals in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. Id. ¶ 36.

In July 2010, three Town officials - Supervisor Wilkinson, Police Chief Eddie Ecker, and Deputy Town Attorney John Jilnicki ("DTA Jilnicki") - wrote to OASAS in support of Safe Harbor's licensing application. Id. ¶ 37. Safe Harbor received an OASAS operating certificate effective November 18, 2010. Id. ¶ 38. Safe Harbor opened on November 30, 2010. Id.

Throughout the following spring and summer, various Town officials visited the Premises, where they were given tours and provided detailed explanations of Safe Harbor's day-to-day operations. Id. ¶ 39. The officials complimented the services and expressed appreciation for the scholarships offered to local residents, and never mentioned any zoning violations. Id.

In September 2011, Town Attorney Patrick Gunn ("TA Gunn") called Safe Harbor to advise that a local competitor had complained about the use of the Premises following a New York Post article featuring Safe Harbor. Id. ¶¶ 40-41. Although Safe Harbor claims to have strictly adhered to its OASAS license, the complaint prompted some local residents to complain about Safe Harbor, forming groups, such as Citizens for the Preservation of the Northwest Woods. Id. ¶ 42.

Shortly thereafter, McKinsey received a letter from BI Preiato, dated September 27, 2011, stating that

upon further review of operational aspects of your facility, namely the providing of on-site addiction treatments and services, as well as the transient nature of your client's [ sic ] varied residencies at the facility, it is now clear that such an operation is not permitted in a residential zone without site plan approval. Your facility could possibly... be ...

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