Farm Country Kitchen’s proposed site plan with off-site parking will not be approved by the Riverhead Town Planning Board unless it first gets a variance from the town Zoning Board of Appeals, board members said at Thursday’s Planning Board meeting.
The variance is needed to allow a proposed 25-stall, off-site parking lot on Swezey Avenue to exceed the 200 feet limit that off-site parking is allowed to be from a business, according to town code.
The site plan submitted by the restaurant indicates that the proposed off-site parking lot is 249 feet from the restaurant. However, a planning department report says the walking distance, following a sidewalk and proposed crosswalk, is approximately 560 feet away, and that the 249 foot estimate is based on a “as the crow flies” measurement.
One Planning Board member questioned the safety of the off-street site.
“Are we really going to allow people to walk 500 feet to cross Route 25 to get to a restaurant that’s been out of compliance for years?” asked Planning Board member Ed Densieski during a discussion on the application at Thursday’s meeting.
He said he’s seen cars backing out of the parking lot onto Route 25 and people crossing the busy street to get to the restaurant.
“Someone’s going to get killed,” Mr. Densieski said.
He said downtown restaurant owners frequently ask him why Farm Country Kitchen is allowed to operate in violation of town code when other restaurants must comply.
Peter Danowski, the attorney for the restaurant, said the proposed ZBA variance hearing, which has yet to be scheduled, is the first step that needs to be taken before other site plan and safety issues can be considered.
In order to formally apply to the ZBA, the site plan must first be rejected by Jefferson Murphree, the town’s planning and building administrator.
Mr. Danowski said he’s been waiting six months for the town to issue that denial so he can go before the ZBA.
Mr. Murphree said he plans to issue that denial “forthwith,” but didn’t have a specific date.
Bill Duffy, the town attorney who represents the Planning Board, said the hearing hasn’t been scheduled because they don’t have enough information from the applicant.
The Riverhead Town Board took Farm Country Kitchen to court in 2011, claiming it had illegally expanded a take-out deli into a full-service restaurant, with one of the town’s complaints being the lack of parking at the riverfront site.
Restaurant owners Tom and Maria Carson purchased property last year on the west side of Swezey Avenue, just south of the railroad tracks, to serve as off-site parking for the restaurant.
The site plan application calls for a change from take-out restaurant to restaurant with 61 seats, including 30 seats indoors and on the deck, 15 patio seats and 16 seats at picnic tables.
It also proposes a painted crosswalk at the intersection of Marcy Avenue and West Main Street, which would require state Department of Transportation approval. The one on-site parking space would be a handicapped spot, the planning report states.
Farm Country Kitchen did get freshwater wetlands and Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act permits from the state Department of Environmental Conservation approval last fall to allow a restaurant on the West Main Street site and to construct a patio there.
The town’s lawsuit is still pending.