Years into a plan for a new parking lot and valet parking service at Farm Country Kitchen, owners of the West Main Street restaurant still have more work to do in order to earn approval from the town.
Representatives from the restaurant — which started as a take-out business but has grown into a popular upscale eatery on the Peconic River over the years — spoke with the Town Planning Board for about an hour at Thursday’s work session, covering topics that have been discussed at previous meetings: from curbing to landscaping to traffic lights to handicapped parking spaces.
The restaurant has been at odds with the town since at least 2011, when Riverhead claimed it only had permission for a take-out restaurant and was operating as a sit-down restaurant which didn’t have adequate parking. Because of this, many customers have parked along West Main Street, causing concern from town officials.
Meanwhile the two sides have been working toward a solution, with Farm Country Kitchen submitting an updated plan on Oct. 30, following their meeting with the planning board this past July. The new plan included suggested improvements made by the board at the July meeting, including a handicapped parking stall, a valet parking stall, a residential stall, and a turnaround for the valet service, according to town planner Karin Gluth.
Additionally, the business is looking to legally change from a take-out restaurant to a 69-seat sit-down restaurant. While planning board members questioned the number of seats available at the eatery, Farm Country Kitchen’s attorney, Peter Danowski explained that it would include indoor, deck, patio and picnic table style seating. Ms. Gluth said the new plan addressed some prior issues, but still had other aspects where it fell short.
To ease parking concerns voiced by the Planning Board, Farm Country Kitchen owners Tom and Maria Carson previously purchased a nearby lot on Sweezy Avenue for $250,000.
But on Thursday, the Planning Board had reservations with the valet parking space on West Main Street, expressing concerns that by having the valet parking, people wouldn’t utilize the Sweezy Avenue lot. They also feared that takeout traffic would congest the valet parking area.
Mr. Danowski said that Mr. Carson expects the businesses delivery service to increase, which would decrease the amount of takeout orders and eliminate congestion.
Other lingering issues with the plan were also discussed, including what materials would be used on the new sidewalks, the amount of landscaping and curbing required for the property and increased signage directing customers where they can and cannot park.
Mr. Carson said he’s willing to make the necessary changes to the plan in order to come into compliance. He added that his friend is interested in investing in Riverhead, and the two have a contract on the house to the east of the Sweezy Avenue lot.
“We’re buyers for the town,” he said. “We’re buyers for the community. What we’re trying to do here I think is a great idea, against all the odds, I think what I’ve done there has surprised us sometimes. I think it’s a great plan for the community.”
“I agree with you 100 percent, but the parking is a stickler for me,” Mr. Densieski replied. “I think someone is going to get run over.”
The Planning Board unofficially decided to move forward with the plan, pending revisions are made and that Farm Country Kitchen meets with the Zoning Board of Appeals and gets approval for the changes in parking. The Planning Board would still need to approve an amended site plan pending ZBA approval.
Photo Captions: The Riverhead Town Planning Board at Thursday’s meeting (Credit: Nicole Smith); A family crosses West Main Street at Farm Country Kitchen over the summer. (Credit: Joseph Pinciaro)