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Harbor Knoll Bed & Breakfast sues ZBA for denying additional rooms

Is five rooms too many for a bed and breakfast?

The question is at the center of a debate before the Greenport Village Board. At last Thursday’s work session, Village Zoning Board of Appeals members urged the board not to allow up to five rooms in the seven B&Bs throughout the village.

Leueen Miller, owner of Harbor Knoll on Fourth Street, is suing the ZBA following the denial of an ordinance of the Village Code to allow five rooms in her B&B.

An Article 78 proceeding, filed against the ZBA in May, aims to reverse the ZBA’s decision.

In 2001, Ms. Miller was granted approval by the Village Planning Board to operate a three-bedroom B&B in the single-family dwelling in Greenport, according to court records. In 2018, Ms. Miller sought to increase the number of rooms from three to five and filed an application for a variance with the ZBA.

Two public hearings were held on the application in March and April. During the hearings, Ms. Miller “provided proof that the ZBA had granted similar relief to another B&B in the Village for the use of four bedrooms,” according to the Article 78. There would be no change to the Harbor Knoll property by using two or more of the existing bedrooms for B&B use, according to the Article 78.

The ZBA members discussed the variance application at the April meeting and the discussion “revealed that at least one of the board members was acting with an erroneous understanding of the authority granted under New York State law to zoning boards of appeal,” according to the Article 78.

The document states at least one member who voted to deny the variance believed the ZBA did not have the legal authority to grant the area variance requested.

“The board member was adamant that granting the variance was a legislative act, and the member voted to deny the variance requested. A second member incorrectly declared the application was for a ‘use’ variance,” the Article 78 claims.

Under current New York State Building code, a single B&B can have up to five bedrooms. However, the village code only permits a maximum of three bedrooms, Mayor George Hubbard Jr. said.

Zoning code for Southold Town allows up to five bedrooms for a B&B.

In 2011, Ms. Miller submitted a letter to the Village Board of Trustees asking them to modify the code and conform with B&B requirements of the state.

At a previous ZBA meeting, chairman John Saladino said the Village Board held two public hearings on whether to increase the B&B capacity in 2011 and in 2016. Both times, he said, board members decided to keep the capacity as it was.

“I’m not opposed to five rooms … I’m not a trustee, I’m a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, we don’t legislate,” Mr. Saladino said in March.

Since then, the issue was put under the responsibility of the Village Board, Mr. Hubbard said. Last Thursday’s public hearing served as a precursor to a decision made by the Village Board.

ZBA member Arthur Tasker said he fears the Village Board will modify the code to escape the potential lawsuit.

Mr. Tasker said the state code permits up to five bedrooms as a fire safety precaution. Before denying the variance, he said the ZBA considered many factors beyond fire safety.

“None of the other provisions of the B&B law have been considered or are being taken into account,” he said at the meeting. “There should be some consideration to increase the size of the building requirements in order to permit a greater number of rooms … Now you’re going to throw the baby out with the bathwater to avoid a lawsuit when you could have just walked away from it.”

ZBA member David Corwin requested they keep the code for B&Bs at three rooms.

“I don’t want a hotel on my block,” he said. “There’s enough tourists and people coming to Greenport now as it stands.”

Attorney Patricia Moore, representing Ms. Miller, said at the meeting the case is in litigation and should not be discussed at the public hearing.

The law to permit three bedrooms was passed in 1991, Ms. Moore said. Since that time, the Village Board has approved short-term rentals, like Airbnb’s, which allow for five bedrooms. The discrepancy between the code for B&Bs and short-term rentals has created what some characterize as an unequal code for renters.

“The B&B community and my client simply ask for the fairness and same rules that an owner and occupant of a short-term rental would be entitled to apply for without the need for any site plan,” she said. “The only difference between a short-term renter and a B&B is muffins … One provides for a continental breakfast, whereas a short-term rental has no obligation to provide anything. With that in mind, we hope you will support it.”

Mr. Tasker said after the responsibility was passed on to the Village Board, the ZBA “hoped and expected” they would consider the wishes of residents: not to change the number of bedrooms from three to five.

A decision regarding the code change could be voted on at a later date, officials said.

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Photo caption: Harbor Knoll Bed & Breakfast on Fourth Street in Greenport. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)

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