Judge Rules That Lawsuit Against Town Over Bridgehampton Barn Decision Can Move Forward

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In a ruling filed last week, U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Spatt gave Cantor Fitzgerald CEO Howard Lutnick’s legal team to move forward with a lawsuit against Southampton Town and individual members of the Planning Board and Agricultural Advisory Committee seeking to reverse a ruling prohibiting him from building a barn on his Bridgehampton property.

The ruling, which was handed down on August 19 in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District struck down a motion filed by the town to dismiss the suit—which was originally filed in February against the town in general, as well as six members of the Planning Board and 15 members of the Agricultural Advisory Committee—on several legal points, finding that Mr. Lutnick’s suit had merit.

Mr. Lutnick twice applied for permission to construct a barn on his property on 545 Halsey Lane in Bridgehampton, which lies within an agricultural overlay district. Such districts were first established by the town in 1972 and later amended in 1994 to prohibit all construction within the districts except those permitted by the Town Board as “accessory and incidental to agricultural production.”

The lawsuit, seeking $20 million in damages, is unique in that it implies that the individual members of both boards should be held personally responsible for the losses incurred by the plaintiff and applicant.

The town’s motion to dismiss, filed in May, charged that “failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted,” according to the court’s memorandum.

The court’s ruling now allows Mr. Lutnick’s team to proceed in advancing the case against the individual members of the two boards by establishing that they infringed on property rights in an “arbitrary and irrational manner,” according to the memorandum.

“The property owner [Mr. Lutnick] is happy with the court’s decision and happy to pursue the case,” says Michael Giusto of Neufeld & O’Leary, the firm representing Mr. Lutnick.

Highlighted in the Plaintiff’s study is a parcel located across the street on 445 Halsey Lane, on which “the Planning Board had approved 19,305 square feet of agricultural structures—more than 70 percent larger than sought by the Plaintiff—situated on an agricultural reserve parcel of only 13.3 acres,” according to the memorandum.

Mr. Lutnick purchased the 40-acre property in 2003 for just over $15 million. He first applied for construction of a 11,250-square-foot barn in 2006 to use for agricultural purposes servicing an existing 3-acre apple orchard.

He later amended the application to include a slightly smaller barn and an expanded agricultural use that totaled 10 acres of orchard and a vineyard. The Planning Board, under advisement of the Agricultural Advisory Committee, felt that the size of the barn was not appropriate for the proposed agricultural use. Instead, the AAC suggested their own amended application for the construction of a 2,400 square foot barn, which would also require the baseball diamond and jungle gym that Mr. Lutnick built when he purchased the property to be removed.

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