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Mayor unable to gain support for religious boundary at Westhampton Beach Trustee meeting

Publication: The Southampton Press
By Jessica DiNapoli   May 2, 2008 11:14 AM

The proposed creation of a special religious boundary in Westhampton Beach Village has prompted several weeks of controversy, and last week Mayor Conrad Teller was unable to even place the issue on the village trustees’ agenda for a vote.

Mayor Teller’s failed motion to add the measure to the agenda came after a request from Westhampton Beach attorney Richard Haefeli, who has been representing the Hampton Synagogue before the Village Board. It came as a surprise to many of those in attendance at the Thursday evening meeting, including three Village Board members who voted against the motion, considering an announcement had previously been made by village officials that a public information session would be held on May 28.The boundary, which is called an eruv, allows Orthodox Jews to push and carry objects on the Sabbath and would be denoted by u-shaped PVC piping affixed to LIPA and Verizon poles.

The mayor did have support from Deputy Mayor Jim Kametler, who seconded the motion, but ultimately it failed 3-2, with Trustees Hank Tucker, Joan Levan and Toni-Jo Birk voting no.

The eruv is proposed to be placed within a 1-square-mile area in the village, from Montauk Highway in Westhampton Beach south to Sunswick Lane, to Griffing Avenue and Seafield Lane on its eastern border and Potunk Lane and Oak Street as the western boundary. Mr. Tucker said that he did not want to hold a vote on the eruv yet because there were people at Thursday night’s meeting who were just learning about it for the first time.

Dean Speir, a former chairman of the village zoning board of appeals, said that he felt that Mayor Teller has allowed the issue to become much more divisive than it needed to be.

A number of other Westhampton Beach residents also spoke out about the eruv besides those pushing for it to be passed last night.

Bob Sprotte, a Dune Road resident, said that he would like the vote on the eruv to be extended past the upcoming June election.

Meanwhile, Reverend Joseph Mirro from the Church of the Immaculate Conception, a Roman Catholic Church on Main Street in Quiogue, spoke in favor of the eruv.

“I’m not afraid of the synagogue, I’m not afraid of the eruv, and I’m not afraid that this community will become like Cedarhurst or Lawrence,” Rev. Mirro said in response to residents’ suggestions that the eruv will change the character of the village to be like that of those two villages, which have a high population of Orthodox Jewish people, in Nassau County. He did not specify how Westhampton Beach’s character might change.

He championed the idea that intolerance can only be conquered by tolerance.

“I think we fear intolerance, and it is our fear that may lead us to be intolerant,” Rev. Mirro said.

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