Farm Country Kitchen, which has been involved in legal battles with Riverhead Town since 2011, moved a few steps closer to legalizing its West Main Street operation in the eyes of the town Thursday night.
The town Zoning Board of Appeals voted 4-0, with one member absent, in support of the restaurant’s request for a zoning variance to allow a proposed off-site parking lot on Swezey Avenue to be further from the main building than zoning permits. Several other property setback proposals were also approved.
The business plans to have valet parking to move customers’ vehicles back and forth between the Swezey Avenue parking lot and the restaurant.
The next step for the project is to return to the town Planning Board for final site plan approval that would bring the restaurant into compliance with Town Code.
Peter Danowski, the attorney for Farm Country Kitchen, expressed optimism.
“We are on the cusp of what I believe to be an approval resolution out of the Planning Board,” he said.
The ZBA had previously approved similar variances for the restaurant. But those approvals expired while the application sat before the Planning Board.
The Planning Board had sought amendments that required a change to the variances granted by the ZBA, including a request that the space for valet parking be located not on Swezey Avenue, but on the lot immediately west of the restaurant, which its principals also control, Mr. Danowski said.
In the past, Planning Board members expressed concern about safety issues at Farm Country Kitchen, as patrons parked in front of the restaurant often back out into West Main Street traffic and those who park elsewhere have to walk across the busy street.
The Riverhead Town Board took Farm Country Kitchen to court in 2011, claiming it only had a certificate of occupancy for a take-out deli and that it had illegally expanded into a full-service restaurant. The town also said the establishment lacks sufficient on-premises parking. Town officials said they were unable to get the courts to shut down the business.
In 2013, the restaurant’s owner, Tom Carson, purchased a 0.7 acre lot on the west side of Swezey Avenue, just south of the railroad tracks, for use as a remote parking lot in hopes of alleviating parking concerns.
But since town code requires off-site parking to be within 200 feet of the primary location, town official said, a ZBA variance was needed since the lot in question is located 575 feet from the restaurant.
Photo: Farm Country Kitchen received approval from the ZBA last Thursday to have an auxiliary valet parking lot. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)