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Rental owner files suit against town

In response to a decision to not allow rental properties in R-1 residential districts, Jennifer Friedman has filed a lawsuit against the town of Dunkirk and its Zoning Board of Appeals in state Supreme Court in Chautauqua County. Friedman is the owner of 5186 Woodlands Drive, which was being used as a rental property prior to the recent ruling by the ZBA that it should never have been permitted.

The grounds for Friedman’s appeal of the ruling is multifaceted, as the lawsuit states the ZBA failed to properly interpret the definition of “family” under the town’s Zoning Ordinance, while also claiming that they “the basis for its determination was inconsistent with the town’s long standing prior interpretation of the Zoning Ordinance which… did not require owners of property in R-1 Districts to rent their properties on a short term basis and/or allowed individuals to occupy their properties on a transient basis.”

The lawsuit cites residents of Woodlands Drive who do rent out their homes or use them as summer homes, specifically naming 5182 and 5192 Woodlands Drive as residents they believe are transient in nature or rent out their homes. It also linked several other rental sites — VRBOs and Airbnbs — in R-1 Districts that have been rented out for years, a few of which even date back to 2013.

The lawsuit details Friedman’s purchase of the property, and states she did her due diligence into the zoning laws before purchasing, and originally intended the property to be her vacation home, but she began renting it to offset the costs of the property.

See RENTAL, Page A3

Friedman purchased the property in November 2020, and started receiving complaints from the other residents of Woodlands Drive when the property was first rented in July 2021. At a hearing that occurred on Oct. 19, 2021, Dunkirk Zoning Officer Ryan Mourer said at the time that “the language is not clear enough, I’m not going to act,” in reference to the operation of the property.” It was then the residents hired an attorney to push the issue to the ZBA, which made its ruling May 25.

The lawsuit also has issues with how Woodlands Drive residents filed their appeal, as the lawsuit states the appeal was not filed within the required 60 days. This was contested by the ZBA at the time of their ruling, as there was no written decision by the Zoning Officer for the clock on the 60-day appeal window to begin.

Additionally, the document notes a sometimes unwelcome setting. “The neighbors set out on a course of harassment complaining and they spent hours observing the property, keeping track of cars in the driveway, and making frivolous complaints about the use of a smokeless fire pit, using a charcoal grill to make food, music during daylight hours, stating that someone left a beer can on Ms. Friedman’s Property and so forth,” the suit states. “In virtually every instance, these complaints did not involve individuals or families who had rented the property but rather occurred when Ms. Friedman or her family and friends were using the property, thus showing that these complaints had less to do with Ms. Friedman’s short-term renters, but rather a pattern of animus toward Ms. Friedman.”

Citing those reasons, Friedman wishes to have the ZBA’s decision annulled, while also having the town of Dunkirk’s Zoning Ordinance declared unconstitutionally vague.

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