Judge sides with Riverhead Town over deli or farmstand dispute

10/03/2012 8:00 AM |
Northville, Riverhead

BARBARBAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A lawyer for A Taste of Country in Northville said his client will appeal a judge’s decision barring them certain food offerings.

A state Supreme Court judge last week ruled the owners of A Taste of Country in Northville cannot operate a deli or takeout restaurant on their Sound Avenue property.

More specifically, they can’t prepare or sell hot food, cold short-order foods such as sandwiches, or cooked-to-order food or catered foods.

Riverhead Town took the business to court in 2010, claiming that it’s certificate of occupancy is for a farm stand, and that the above mentioned uses are not permitted but were being done on the site.

The property is owned by John Reeve Jr. and his wife, Renee, and is located on 1.8 acres on the north side of Sound Avenue. The Reeves rent the property to a tenant, who runs the store.

Mr. Reeve’s father is the town’s longtime sanitation supervisor.

The town code allows farms to sell homemade or homegrown products on a parcel of land that’s at least seven acres, and allows farmsteads to sell “supporting farm products or products not grown by the farmer,” so long as these products make up less than 40 percent of the merchandising area.

“It is not being operated as a farm stand, but as a restaurant in violation of the Riverhead Town Code,” the Sept. 20 ruling by state Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Emerson states.

While the judge issued what’s called a summary judgement — meaning no trial was required — ruling on the farm stand issue, she declined to do so on a second issue the town challenged the Reeves on that deals with a farm workers’ house that’s also on the property in question. That issue will go to trial.

The property is located in a zone that allows minimum two-acre residential lots, as well as agricultural and other uses.

The town, which had granted a permit for the farm stand in 2002, claims the building was initially operated as a farm stand selling homemade baked goods, farm-raised fruits and vegetables and cooked foods such as eggs when Renee Reeve operated the store prior to 2009, but since it has been leased to a tenant, it has operated as a delicatessen and then as a Mexican restaurant and no longer sells farm products.

“It’s not a final determination, there’s still a trial to be had on some of the issues,” said John Ciarelli, an attorney for Taste of Country. “We’re going to comply with the court order (in the interim), But there’s a trial coming up and we’re going to vigorously defend our rights.

“The town ordinance is ambiguous. The Reeves also have some pre-existing rights, and there are other people serving hot food in the other areas along Sound Avenue. I don’t think there’s a different between what other farmsteads are selling and what Taste of Country is selling.”

He said his client will appeal the ruling on the farm stand.

The farm worker house was permitted by the Zoning Board of Appeals in 2005 on the condition that the Reeves actively farm at least five acres within three miles of the property and that they submit proof of that to the ZBA annually. The town claimed the Reeves failed to do so on an annual basis and had a relative living in the house instead of a farm worker at one point.

tgannon@timesreview.com

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