The 29.3 acre farm field, known as the Diamond Ranch, is surrounded by residential
properties where homeowners are concerned about the steady escalation of the size
and number of special events held on the field during the summer months. Image
courtesy of Google Earth
- The party may be over for Stanley Simon, owner of the Diamond Ranch on Mecox Road. Contesting the site of four major fundraisers this summer, neighbors filed a lawsuit earlier this month against Simon, the Southampton Town Board and the four organizations holding the special events, seeking an end to the large-scale festivities held annually in the adjoining 29-acre farm field that borders their backyards.
The gala events bring between 200 to a 1,000 people to the neighborhood.
The irate residents, in an Article 78 proceeding, are objecting to the town's issuance of permits allowing the use of the property, granted an agricultural easement by the town more than 20 years ago, for what they have described as events that are held for profit to the Diamond Ranch owners in violation of both town law and the easement provision on the property.
The parties will continue this summer as the lawsuit proceeds with both sides due to return to court on July 25. The 12 area residents who filed suit last week in New York State Supreme Court in Riverhead were seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) that, if granted, would have forced the cancellation of the two remaining events granted permits by the Southampton Town Board earlier this month.
The Town Board's resolution granting the Aug. 3 permit notes the activities associated with the special events do not constitute farming activities and are not in keeping with the terms of the easement.
Summerfield Lane resident Attorney Seth Stein
objects to the parties at the Diamond Ranch.
Simon's attorney, on the other hand, maintains his client is well within his rights to use the property for recreational pursuits in keeping with the easement as well as with town law. Simon's attorney, Vincent J. Messina, also questioned the residents standing before the court and challenged their right to bring suit concerning the easement. "The easement is an arrangement made by the Town with the property owner," Messina said. "These residents have no standing."
The Southampton Town Board voted unanimously to approve the special events permits required to hold the fundraisers, noting the charitable organizations involved should not be penalized by the escalating conflict between the residents and the owner of the Diamond Ranch property. Two of the four planned events have already taken place, including the popular Denim and Diamonds Gala.
According to the existing town code, requests for special events permits must be submitted at least 60 days prior to the date of the event. It is not unusual for event organizers involved in party preparations to assume a permit will be issued as they move forward with plans in the absence of a secured permit in hand.
At The Last Minute?
"Everyone does this at the last minute," Messina said. "They are volunteers and they don't do anything until they are up against the last minute." His client was not as philosophical. "We submitted our applications in plenty of time, the town board could have moved more quickly and given us an answer before everyone was up against the wall and it was too late to make other plans."
"It was just too late for anyone to make other plans," Councilwoman Nancy Graboski
said, as she explained town policy regarding the parties.
The two remaining events, one for the benefit of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
to be held on July 19, and the family day fundraiser held at the Diamond Ranch by the Albert Einstein
College of Medicine of Yeshiva University to take place on Aug. 3 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., were approved by at a July 11 meeting of the Town Board.
The Albert Einstein Medical College will sponsor a family day event again this year on
Sunday, Aug. from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Diamond Ranch, but indicated to the
Town Board that this will be their last season on the site.
New York State Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Arlen Spinner denied the residents request for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) noting the petitioners did not demonstrate they would suffer any irreparable harm if the two remaining events were to proceed.
Simon viewed the court's denial of the Article 78 proceeding to issue a TRO as a step in the right direction.
"We are running an operation here," Simon said. "We know what we are doing. We filed our applications for the permits on time. We did everything by the book and we should be allowed to proceed. Please don't hurt us."
Simon maintains he is a good neighbor, and cites the importance of the fundraisers for the organizations involved. He also emphasized the finality of Justice Spinner's ruling denying the request for a TRO. "They cannot appeal that decision," Simon said.
Neighbors participating in the suit against him disagree. "This is not over yet," Irwin Glusker said. Glusker and his wife Lilyan have lived in the neighborhood for more than 40 years. They are among the 12 petitioners who filed suit. All of the residents involved in the action against the Diamond Ranch and the Town have lived in the surrounding area for more than 20 years and have watched the fundraising activities intensify over the last two decades.
"At first, you don't complain," Glusker said. "You want to relax and enjoy the weekend, so you think its okay, if it only happens once or twice. But now, it's out of control. Stay tuned," Glusker said indicating the homeowners were prepared to fight to the finish.
Opponents of the special events note the charities involved are not based locally and can easily find
other more suitable locations for their large scale fundraisers.
"The town should follow their ordinance," Seth Stein, an attorney and area resident who joined in the lawsuit said as he discussed the lawsuit this week. The residents are being represented by the Garden City based law firm of Moritt, Hock, Hamroff and Horowitz. Stein is a member of the firm.
"There is a difference between using your property for recreational use, and using a property for a commercial purpose," Stein said, noting the Town Board's latest resolution passed unanimously approving the Aug. 3 family event day.
"These permits are a privilege, they are not a right," Stein noted, indicating the residents strong desire that the town refuse to grant permits to the Diamond Ranch in the future or allow the Ranch to hold one special event a year in keeping with Town Law but refuse to grant permits to hold other events.
"We granted that permit with a lot of conditions," Councilwoman Graboski said, referring to the upcoming Aug. 3 event that provides a day of fun and games replete with large inflatable toys for young participants such as a 30-foot gorilla that has towered over the field in years past much to the delight of partygoers and the consternation of neighbors.
Proponents of the fundraisers note the events are well organized and go off without a hitch
. The blow-up toys that delight the children are safe and quiet unlike carnival rides such as ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds. The event is expected to attract nearly 1,000 people during the afternoon as part of a last hurrah.
In a letter to the Town Board dated June 28, 2008, Allen Spiegel
, M.D., the Dean of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine stated, "This will be the final year that we will host the Family Day at Diamond Ranch; we will find another venue next year."
Southampton Town Councilwoman Nancy Graboski explained
the town's position in the wake of a lawsuit filed by property
owners who want the parties to stop while challenging the town's
issuance of the permits in an Article 78 proceeding now making
its way through the court system.
The Town Board's resolution noted the Diamond Ranch's location in a residential district and described the circumstances surrounding the establishment of the easement granted by the Town in 1983 as part of a cluster subdivision project dubbed "Summerfield at Mecox."
Property Use Restricted
In keeping with the town's Planning Board policy at the time, the cluster subdivision was granted, and a 29.3 acre open space preserve that would not be developed was established - now known as Diamond's Ranch, located at 600 Mecox Road. The current property taxes on the property are $543.06 according to records on file in the town Assessor's Office. The low taxes reflect the property's restrictive use.
The property, according to the easement granted by the town must be used primarily for agricultural purposes but can also be used for personal recreational uses that are compatible with the primarily agricultural nature of the preserve.
The board also noted the increasing objections from the community as well as mounting concerns regarding safety and traffic before voting to issue the permit for the last event scheduled to be held at the Diamond Ranch this summer and perhaps, forever.
"We are trying to be fair to everyone," Graboski said. "We are trying to be fair to the organizations who have planned these events for good causes, we are trying to be fair to the homeowners and we are trying to be fair to Mr. Simon."
Graboski noted the town is in the process of evaluating the special events permits process with an eye to the future. "We are studying the codes on the books in Nantucket, on the Vineyard, and other areas that have similarities to Southampton to see what we can come up with. Maybe we should make the deadlines longer, say extend it to 120 days instead of 60, so applicants can have time to find other venues if we refuse to grant special events permits."
Objecting residents also noted the charities involved in the fundraisers were not local organizations and could easily find other more suitable venues for their large scale events.
Meanwhile if you live on Mecox Road, Summerfield Lane or Paul's Lane, you are likely to either go to a party on July 19 and Aug. 3 at Diamond Ranch or be a party to the lawsuit contesting the town's issuance of the special events permits to be heard in New York State Supreme Court on July 25.