Meditation Center Is Legal After All

The Vajravarahi Meditation Center in Sag Harbor has asked the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals to overrule a building inspector’s determination that meditation classes cannot be held in its Hampton Street storefront. Carrie Ann Salvi

    Should meditation qualify as an “accessory use” to a retail store?
    The question arose at Tuesday evening’s meeting of the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals. Timothy Platt, the village’s building inspector, had ruled it a violation of the Vajravarahi Meditation Center’s certificate of occupancy.
    The not-for-profit center leases space, including a retail book center, at 122 Hampton Road (Route 114), in a nonconforming, pre-existing building in a residential neighborhood. It received a certificate of occupancy in 1999.
    Mark Catalano, a lawyer from East Hampton, represented the center. Chuckling over its pronunciation, he settled for calling it “V.M.C.” as he addressed the board, which included a new chairman, Anthony Hagen, and a new member, Tim McGuire. Gayle Pickering resigned her seat last month.
    Before Mr. Catalano began to make his case, Michael Bromberg, a board member and former chairman, told him, “We’ve already made this determination.” The zoning board, it seemed, had overturned the ruling. Mr. Bromberg cited Yoga Shanti, a yoga studio that sells retail products, and another case where a store “taught knitting to further the sale of yarn . . . are meditation practices furthering the sale of books?” he asked. In this case, the answer was yes.
    The building inspector’s foremost concern was apparently parking; a number of tickets have been issued. Mr. Platt, according to Mr. Catalano, asked the center to get a certificate of occupancy as a religious institution.
    Jonathan Glynn of Sag Harbor, the only resident who spoke on the matter, addressed both issues. “I am on the board of my synagogue,” he said, and “this is not a religion.” He said he’d bought a number of books at the center, and that Gen Nordin, the Buddhist nun who teaches there and runs the bookstore, had explained what he’d read in a class. “Let me tell you, you need some guidance for this,” said Mr. Glynn.
    “At least half of the space is books,” Mr. Catalano told the board, with “20 titles, candles, and other products.” The back of the building is set aside for classes, discussion, and meditations, he said, adding that the organization has other locations but this is its only retail center on the East End. Gen Nordin teaches at some of the other centers, he said, but the books and CDs used in the classes are sold only in Sag Harbor.
    The announcement that the board had overturned the building inspector’s ruling brought applause from the room.