Chamberlain Acres files lawsuit against Southport over discrimination of sexual orientation

SOUTHPORT, NY (WETM) – The owners of Chamberlain Acres Garden Center and Florist have filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Town of Southport and the Town Board, claiming the reason the town has repeatedly denied building permits for the business is because of the owners’ sexual orientations.

In a lawsuit dated April 11 and provided to 18 News by Lippes & Lippes lawfirm out of Buffalo, Chamberlain owners Charlie Todd and Glenn Miller—being represented by Lippes & Lippes out of Buffalo—claim that the Town Board of Southport is discriminating against them by not allowing the two to build a pole barn addition to the property. The lawsuit claims the reasoning behind Southport’s decision is because Todd and Miller are gay and also pointed to the fact that the owner of Chamberlain’s competitor sits on the board.

In November 2019, Todd and Miller approached Southport Code Enforcement Officer Peter Rocchi about requesting a permit to build a 60×80 foot pole barn as an addition to the already existing 95-foot greenhouse at Chamberlain, the lawsuit explained. The new barn would be the dedicated space for the garden center’s year-round farmer’s market and would include new gas, electric and sewer lines.

According to the lawsuit, Rocchi had previously given permission for the farmer’s market since that event fits within the classification laws of flea market zoning. Code then reportedly approved the plans for the new pole barn, after which Todd and Miller obtained a $125,000 loan. The owners then turned in the finished application for the permit on February 17, 2020, along with a $150 check and other documents that Rocchi had said were required.

The lawsuit claimed that Rocchi told Todd and Miller days later that the Town of Southport had denied their request. He reportedly explained that the Board determined Chamberlain would have to become an event center in order to meet zoning code requirements.

The claimed owners they wanted to announce the project and promote it on social media and start building the barn by February 2020. Town officials allegedly told Todd and Miller that the Town would shut down the farmer’s market if Chamberlain talked about the barn project publicly. According to the lawsuit, the Town said it would shut down the market until May 2020 “because it would take that long to add the word ‘farmer’s market’ to the commercial zoning code.” Last year, Charlie Todd claimed that during the time it took to write the code, he lost $30,000.

The Chamberlain owners pointed to their competitor, Bradley Farms, and its owner, Dan Hurley. Chamberlain claimed that Hurley, who is on the Southport Town Council, doesn’t face the same “event center” restrictions despite classifying his farm as a “family entertainment center” and holding similar events to Chamberlain.

Nine months later, Todd and Miller claimed they received a newly drafted event center code that “was the most restrictive code in the Town.” They also claimed that many provisions didn’t make sense for a garden center. The Chamberlain owners claimed that Hurley later told them the Town allegedly recycled the new event center code from a proposed rodeo three years ago.

“It was now obvious why the so called new event center code had restrictions that would never apply to our facility,” the lawsuit read. “Moreover, there was obviously no need to delay writing a code for an event center, if they were just going to use a previously written code for a rodeo facility.”

The lawsuit ultimately claimed that the Town of Southport and the Town Board violated discrimination laws in the New York State and United States Constitutions, as well as the NYS Human Rights Law by discriminating against them because of their sexual orientations. Attorney Richard Lippes told 18 News that the lawsuit hasn’t been served to the Town of Southport as of April 18.

“It seems like Chamberlain Acres and Mr. Todd and Miller were treated differently than anyone else in the town,” said Lippes. “And there really can’t be any explanation for that, that anyone can see, other than they have discriminated against them because of their sexual orientation.”

18 News has reached out to the Town of Southport for comment. More details will be provided as they become available.

The full lawsuit obtained by 18 News can be read below:


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