A proposal to operate a “tavern” on Griffing Avenue in Riverhead met with opposition from downtown business owners during a public hearing at Wednesday’s Riverhead Town Board meeting.
That, and Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter expressed concern that the applicant might be a “straw man” for his stepfather, who operated a downtown bar police say was often the site of violent incidences, before it lost its liquor license in 2007.
The hearing Wednesday afternoon was on a proposal for a special permit to operate what the town code calls a tavern in a storefront on 155 Griffing Avenue, just north of West Main Street.
The applicant was listed as Roberto Marroquin, who heads a company called Rosa’s Cafe, and who proposes to call the new tavern Michelle’s Cafe. A tavern, which town code describes as ““any building or use commonly known as a ‘bar,’ ‘barroom,’ ‘tavern,’ ‘saloon,’ ’cabaret,’ or ‘nightclub,’” requires a special permit under the property’s Downtown Center-1 zoning.
But at the hearing, town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz pointed out that the name on the corresponding application before the New York State Liquor Authority was “Roberto C. Tejada.”
Mr. Marroquin explained that his full name is Roberto Carlo Marroquin Tejada. He also acknowledged, under questioning from Mr. Kozakiewicz, that his stepfather is Luis Tejada, who owned the Crystal Bar, which was located in a building next to Digger’s tavern on West Main Street and was the scene of many incidents back in 2007, according to town police.
Many of those incidents took place in the parking lot behind the bar, which served a mostly Hispanic clientele, and Mr. Tejada publicly stated at the time that he felt he was being unfairly targeted by police.
“I realize we have an uphill battle because Luis Tejada had problems in this town at the Crystal Bar,” said Jonathan Brown, Mr. Marroquin’s attorney.
He said the proposal is not for a bar, but for a cafe where the food is the main focus of the business, not the alcohol.
But Mr. Brown and Mr. Marroquin also acknowledged that the proposed tavern would not have a stove or oven to cook food, and would only be serving pre-cooked food that would be heated with a microwave.
“My concern is that Mr. Marroquin is a straw man for Luis Tejada to open another place,” Mr. Walter said.
Luis Tejada was listed as an owner of the building on town files. Mr. Marroquin would be leasing the site.
Phil Kenter, the owner of nearby Relay Communications on Griffing Avenue, voiced opposition to the proposal and presented the board with a petition signed by 74 people also opposed to the tavern plan.
Mr. Kenter said bars and taverns often get their patrons drunk and those drunk patrons often commit violent crimes.
He expressed concerns for his mostly female staff, especially when they are walking through a parking lot that may have intoxicated men in it after dark.
“This is not the right site for a proposed tavern,” Mr. Kenter said.
Attorneys at the nearby Twomey, Lathan & Shea law firm also voiced opposition to the tavern, for similar reasons as stated by Mr. Kenter.
Karen Hoeg, an attorney at the firm, said she has felt nervous when leaving the building while people are congregating around the West Main Street parking lot.
And Felicia Scocozza of the local Community Awareness Program (CAP), which teaches students drug and alcohol resistance, also voiced opposition, pointing out the high “alcohol density” in the area, based on the number of establishments selling alcohol.
She said research shows that alcohol increases the chances of violence.
Hollis Warner of the George Hill Moore Peconic Monunment Works on Griffing Avenue said he is always picking up alcohol cans and bottles in the alley by his business from the bars that are already in the area now.
“You guys have to give them special permission to do this, I don’t want you to.” Mr. Warner told the Town Board. “If they are just going to be microwaving, I can do that at home.”
The Town Board took no action on the proposal and left the hearing open for written comments until Sept. 14.