01/06/14 8:00am
01/06/2014 8:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The Jamesport Meeting House,

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The Jamesport Meeting House,

Leaders of the Jamesport Meeting House stated its next top priority to restore the historic Main Road building, as the organization hopes to tackle the lecture room wing, “which sorely needs rejuvenation.”

Richard Wines, president of the nonprofit overseeing the restoration, said at the end of last year that the wing on the east side of the building — added in 1898 to the original structure, which went up in 1731 — has interior work that needs to be done namely on the ceiling and floor. Falling and frayed tiles are at the top of the room, while frayed carpets are at the bottom.

“Our goal is to make this room as beautiful as the rest of the building,” he said, adding that over the past year, the yard was re-graded and re-seeded, and an irrigation system was installed.  Mike Hubbard also made a number of improvements to update an electrical system that dates to the 1920s.

Jamesport Meeting House Preservation Trust, according to its website, aims to “keep the Meeting House in community hands and once again make it available for community use.”

The Meeting House is the East End’s oldest religious structure and the oldest building in Riverhead, according to a history written by Mr. Wines, who is also the chairman of the town’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.

01/01/14 5:00pm
01/01/2014 5:00 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The Glass Greenhouse Farm Market on Main Road in Jamesport opened to the public in October.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The Glass Greenhouse Farm Market on Main Road in Jamesport opened to the public in October.

What is a farm stand? It’s such a simple question, yet one loaded with meaning and innuendo. After asking five people (including farmers) and getting five different answers, I thought it best to consult an authoritative source: Agriculture & Markets, the agency that regulates and protects the activities of farmers statewide. What I found was surprising.

A definition of “farm market” is easy to locate, and it’s just as easy to see it doesn’t apply to the business Save Main Road has been asked to comment on: The Glass Greenhouse Farm Market. A “farm market” in New York showcases and sells goods from two or more farmers. Such a market is also typically located on municipal land. When a dozen growers gather in the parking lot along the river downtown to sell their produce to the public, that’s a “farm market.” The Glass Greenhouse store, in our opinion, is not.

About “farm stands,” Ag & Markets has nothing to say. Literally. They have no rules and no policy that define or govern retail operations conducted by a single farm on its own land. When I spoke to an Ag & Markets official to confirm what their law seemed to indicate, she confirmed they defer to town code on this issue.

Riverhead code says little. A paragraph tucked into zoning law restricts farm retailing by what’s called merchandising area: at least 60 percent of the space must be devoted to selling goods grown on the farm where the stand is located. Save Main Road thinks neighboring Southold’s code, which goes into far greater detail on this point, has much to offer; we plan to work with Riverhead officials to improve our code.

Still, the letter and spirit of existing Riverhead farm stand code can be applied in this situation.

Two things concern us: what the law says and the intent of the owner.

THE LAW

Letters in our possession from Ag and Markets suggest Glass Greenhouse owners asked the agency to intercede with the town so they could bypass the site planning and permitting process. (We think that’s how the market got built.) While FOIL research is underway, it’s already clear Ag & Markets argued strongly that routine application of town rules and procedures would “unreasonably restrict the farm operation.” We take issue with this interpretation.

One reason we’re concerned is that Ag & Markets alternates between calling the new Glass Greenhouse operation a “farm stand” and a “farm market” in ways we think facile and inappropriate. The agency shouldn’t say it’s a “proposed farm market” when, by their own definition, it’s not. The requirement that produce from multiple New York farms be presented appears absolute. (Packaged Arizona tomatoes we saw on display don’t count, nor does other imported produce.) We haven’t heard Glass Greenhouse mention the involvement of any other farms.

Additionally, state law heavily emphasizes the public, not private, nature of these markets. An example is that Ag & Markets may provide technical assistance for developing and improving farmers’ markets only to public and private “agencies,” not to individual farmers.

Ag & Markets relied on the only definition of “farm market” in Riverhead town code 108-56, which deals with signs, despite the fact that the definition is “as used in this section,” meaning it applies only to signs.

We think Ag & Markets’ reasoning is similarly weak throughout the documents.

We’re much more disturbed that Ag & Markets failed even to mention the “60 percent rule.” That rule is the clearest statement of purpose in current Riverhead code as to what farm stands may sell, and it appears to have been wholly disregarded.

To apply the rule, look at the store’s “merchandising area” only. For discussion, disregard the entire bakery (which we think is inappropriate and not allowed in a farm stand, and which appears to comprise 20 percent or more of the structure). We believe even a casual observer would conclude the total amount of farm produce offered in the new Glass Greenhouse retail space falls far short of the 60 percent threshold.

OWNER’S INTENT

According to Ag & Markets, the Glass Greenhouse says they need the new facility to provide cooler space to market produce and additionally to sell fresh honey, eggs and free-range chickens. If that were all the new facility sold, there would be no issues.

Walking through as a consumer, I saw a gelato counter 12 feet long (all estimates by my eye), a cheese counter almost as big, 10 feet of candles, 20 feet of displayed bakery goods and rack after rack of manufactured foods and household items from a dozen or more states. My guess is that all actual produce displayed totaled well under 20 percent of the floor area (excluding bakery production).

The new “stand” is 4,500 square feet. We know a local farmer who raises 1,000 laying chickens and sells their eggs — together with other farm produce — in a farm stand of 150 square feet. We’d be surprised if there are enough chickens, eggs and honey in all of Riverhead to make a dent in a 4,500-square-foot farm stand.

Save Main Road doubts that a farm stand of this size, however attractive and well-built, can be profitable if 60 percent of its retail area displays the off-season greenhouse products, chickens, eggs and honey that Ag & Markets claims are the intended items for sale. That said, if and when the owner achieves that critical measure of content, it should be allowed to operate.

Today, it seems to us an ersatz market, a “farm stand” in name only. We don’t think an upscale deli belongs in the Rural Corridor, and we support the town in its opposition.

My favorite North Fork slogan is: “We have the right to remain rural.” Save Main Road is committed to helping farms and farmers, and we enthusiastically support “real” farm stands. This one doesn’t qualify.

Larry Simms owns a home in South Jamesport and is a director of savemainroad.org, an advocacy group dedicated to preserving the character of the Main Road corridor and surrounding areas.

He also serves on the town’s Code Revision committee.

12/19/13 11:00am
12/19/2013 11:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The Glass Greenhouse Farm Market on Main Road in Jamesport opened to the public in October.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The Glass Greenhouse Farm Market on Main Road in Jamesport.

After preparing to move forward with a plan to sue the owners of a 5,000-square-foot farm market on Main Road in Jamesport for operating outside the law, Town Board members opted on Tuesday to sit tight on heading to court — at least for now.

During last Thursday’s public work session in Town Hall, a resolution to authorize legal action against the owners of the Glass Greenhouse Farm Market was discussed and was expected to be approved Tuesday night.

But the resolution got tabled Tuesday by the three board members eligible to vote on it.

About a dozen supporters of the project came to speak against the lawsuit plans but couldn’t do so because Supervisor Sean Walter ended the meeting early due to icy road conditions and allowed no public comment.

CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | The market's interior as it appeared in October.

CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | The market’s interior as it appeared in October.

Mr. Walter said the measure had been tabled in part because those in attendance didn’t get to be heard.

But, after comparing the farm market to a King Kullen last Thursday — the two-story structure features a full kitchen, elevator, office space and high ceilings with exposed beams — Councilman Jim Wooten said on Tuesday, “I think it’s a bit heavy-handed at this point to go to court. I think it’s time for us to meet with [the owners] and with the Long Island Farm Bureau and work this out, instead of having one more legal action where we’re only going to come to some resolution that we were going to come to anyway through negotiations and cooperation.”

Walter and Edith Gabrielsen own the Jamesport building, and the Farm Market was granted a temporary two-month certificate of occupancy by Riverhead Town on Oct. 4, Supervisor Sean Walter said. The market opened on Oct. 11, though without town site plan approval. The town considered commencing legal action shortly after the temporary CO expired on Nov. 4.

Councilman George Gabrielsen — Walter’s brother — has abstained from any vote related to the property, and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio has been away from Town Hall over the past week due to a family emergency. She was not at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting.

Mr. Walter said he still supports heading to court in this case.

“I walked though the facility and my opinion is that it’s a very high-end, sort of chic grocery store,” Mr. Walter said in an interview after Tuesday’s meeting. “If we were to allow this to happen, then you could do this any place in the Agricultural Protection Zone.”

However, the Farm Market’s location could prove tricky for the town if it attempts to shut the operation down through the courts.

While the entire parcel on which the Farm Market is located sits in the town’s Agricultural Protection Zone, the first 500 feet of the plot — and others in the area along Route 25 — are listed as Rural Corridor, a zone created to “allow a very limited range of roadside shops and services that are compatible with the agricultural and rural setting,” according to town code.

One of the accessory uses permitted in rural corridor zone is a farm stand. But in an accessory use in the agricultural protection zone, at least 60 percent of merchandise sold must be locally-grown — a standard Mr. Walter doubts the operation is meeting.

“If Mr. Gabrielsen wants to have 60 percent locally grown produce, I would support it 100 percent, but clearly when you walk into that building, that’s not what’s there,” he said. “If they had 20 percent locally grown produce, I would be surprised.”

Town Attorney Bob Kozakiewicz offered no comment when asked if the owners of the Farm Market could have found a loophole in the town code — which doesn’t define uses of a farm market in the rural corridor zone — though Mr. Walter said “it doesn’t matter,” as the 60-40 requirement is also mandated under state Agriculture & Markets law.

The supervisor referred to a similar case in 2010, when the town took “A Taste of Country” on Sound Avenue to state Supreme Court for the same reasons and the courts backed the town. That business is now closed.

“If this is okay, then ‘A Taste of Country’ is okay,” Mr. Walter said. “And if ‘A Taste of Country’ is okay, then King Kullen, in theory, could put a supermarket in the agricultural protection zone and the town would have no recourse.”

Mr. Wooten said most of the time when the town takes a business to state Supreme Court, the dispute is resolved by an out-of-court settlement. While he preferred attempting to sit down with the Gabrielsens before litigating, he added that he reserves the right to go to court in the future.

“We can do that without the expense of court,” Mr. Wooten said.

For the time being, Councilman John Dunleavy agreed with Mr. Wooten.

“Sometimes you have to work with people,” Mr. Dunleavy said. He said Mr. Gabrielsen told him he has ordered products that can be grown locally and help meet the 60 percent threshold — but they won’t arrive until spring.

Walter Gabrielsen declined to comment Tuesday when given the chance by a reporter after the meeting. He also declined to speak with a reporter when the News-Review first broke news of the dispute at riverheadnewsreview.com on Thursday.

Mr. Walter said the state Agriculture and Markets Department wants the town to give the business time to meet the 60-40 threshold.

“They applied for this as a farm market, and they are clearly not a farm market,” Mr. Walter said. “They have a building permit. The building is stunning, the parking lot is fine, but why have laws if you don’t enforce them?”

tgannon@timesreview.com

12/17/13 6:50pm
12/17/2013 6:50 PM

liveblogThe Riverhead Town Board tabled a vote Tuesday night on taking legal action against the owners of Glass Greenhouse, a Jamesport nursery, over the business’s newly built, 5,000-square-foot Farm Market.

Even though members of the Gabrielsen family had attended the meeting to speak out, Supervisor Sean Walter said he suspended the public comment portion of the meeting because of the dangerous road conditions.

He said he and two other board members voted to table the resolution on Glass Greenhouse for the same reason.

Last week, he told the News-Review The Farm Market, which opened in October, is currently operating without a valid certificate of occupancy and outside of the town’s regulations for an agriculture operation.

Mr. Walter said Tuesday night that he still supports the legal action.

The News-Review’s Tim Gannon reported live from the meeting. Click below to see what else happened.

 

12/12/13 5:42pm
12/12/2013 5:42 PM


CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | The Glass Greenhouse opened its newly built farmers’ market without site plan approval from the Town, Supervisor Sean Walter said.

Riverhead Town officials are considering taking legal action against the owners of the Glass Greenhouse for illegally operating its newly built Farm Market, a 5,000-square foot, two-story building that features a full kitchen, office space, high ceilings with exposed beams, and an elevator.

A resolution discussed at Thursday’s town board work session, expected to be voted on next Tuesday, states that members have determined the property — located at 1350 Main Road in Jamesport — is in violation of various sections of the town and state code.

The Farm Market, which opened in October and held a grand opening two weeks ago, is currently operating with out a valid certificate of occupancy and outside of the town’s regulations for an agriculture operation, according to Supervisor Sean Walter.

“As much as some people want to believe it meets the town’s zoning, it doesn’t,” Mr. Walter said. “It doesn’t have site plan approval now and I don’t suspect it will get it, since it is not up to code.”

The Glass Greenhouse, which is owned and operated by Walter and Edith Gabrielsen, previously only sold plants and flowers. Three years ago they decided to expand to include a farmers market to sell a variety of fresh and prepackaged foods, manager Amanda Putnam told the Riverhead News-Review in October.

However, much of the products are shipped in from Vermont, Massachusetts and upstate New York, Ms. Putnam said. Moreover, less than 40 percent of the products are made using ingredients grown on site — a direct violation of town code, Mr. Walter said.

The decision to seek legal action against the Gabrielsens wasn’t done with haste, the supervisor said. Walter Gabrielsen’s brother, Councilman George Gabrielsen, said he has recused himself from the matter.

While the site plan has yet to be approved by the town or planning boards, the market was granted a temporary two-month-long certificate of occupancy on Oct. 4, Mr. Walter said.

Without site plan approval from the town, the market opened its doors after receiving a food-processing license from the state Agriculture & Markets Committee on Oct. 11.

Since, Mr. Walter said he has been attempting to contact both the Agriculture & Markets Committee and Farm Bureau president Joe Gergela to determine the town’s next course of action.

When the town’s temporary certificate of occupancy expired on Dec. 4, Mr. Walter said the town still didn’t have a clear plan on how to address the violations.

“It is really not agricultural production,” Councilman James Wooten said in a phone interview Thursday. “When you walk in there, you open your eyes and it’s like a King Kullen. That doesn’t quite make sense to me.”

This is not the first time the town has taken legal action against a business believed to be operating outside town code.

Similarly, in 2010, Riverhead Town took owners of the former A Taste of Country in Northville to court, claiming that its certificate of occupancy is for a farm stand, and that serving hot and cold food — which the business was doing at the time — was not permitted on the site.

Following a two-year court battle, a state Supreme Court judge ruled in favor of the town, according to an October 2012 Riverhead News-Review article.

To bring their operation into compliance, the owners are hoping to expand their business for a second time within the next six months, Mr. Wooten said Thursday. Discussions with the owners revealed the plan to create about 2,800 additional square feet in order to accommodate and sell more products being processed on site, Mr. Wooten said.

“For the most part we want to work with them,” Mr. Wooten said.  “We want to encourage agritourism, but it has to comply with our town code.”

Walter Gabrielsen declined to comment on the resolution.

“I can’t get involved with that,” he said Thursday.

The Town Board is expected to decide if it will take legal action during its next regular session on Tuesday, Dec. 17 at 7 p.m.

11/24/13 12:00pm
11/24/2013 12:00 PM
BILL PETERS PHOTO

BILL PETERS PHOTO

Five months ago, Penny was found stranded on the beach near the Sands Beach Club in Atlantic Beach, not even a week old with her mother nowhere in sight.

But on Saturday, the young seal pup returned home.

The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation released the now 6-month-old rescued seal off Iron Pier beach as a crowd gathered to see her off. The foundation had nursed the seal, which was still dependent on its mother at the time of its rescue.

As a pup, Penny still needed the nutrients and high fat content that she would normally get from her mother’s milk. Penny was tube fed a special milk replacement formula that helped her gain weight.

The seal can now eat fish on its own and has grown to be a strong enough seal pup to be released, according to the Riverhead Foundation website.

psquire@timesreview.com

10/10/13 12:00pm
10/10/2013 12:00 PM
FILE PHOTO | Town officials have said the digital sign at the Valero station in Jamesport violates historic district codes.

FILE PHOTO | Town officials have said the digital sign at the Valero station in Jamesport violates historic district codes.

Four years after Riverhead Town took the owners of a Jamesport gas station to court over its illuminated sign, the business owners are in the process of taking a new approach to try and settle the score. Though a Thursday night meeting will determine when exactly the next step will be.

Back in 2009, the town took the owners of the Valero gas station on Main Road and South Jamesport Avenue to court over an electronic sign showing gas prices.

Town officials said at the time that internally illuminated signs are not permitted under town code in the Village Center zone, where the gas station is located, and claimed the sign was erected illegally.

Now, four years later, the sign is still there and that case is still pending in state Supreme Court.

Related Op-Ed: FOILs on Valero case kept in the dark

But now, the owners of the gas station are trying a different approach, and have applied to the town Zoning Board of Appeals for a variance to allow them to replace the illuminated sign with an LED illuminated sign at the same location. The applicant, 801F Realty Corp, is seeking the change under a section of the Town Code that allows a use that doesn’t conform to zoning to be changed to another nonconforming use by the ZBA. They also are requesting a variance to allow a shed on the property to be less than the required 10 feet from the side yard property line.

While the application is scheduled for a hearing on Thursday night’s meeting, which starts at 7 p.m., the applicant has already requested that the hearing be moved to the Nov. 14 ZBA meeting, which is two meetings away.

That adjournment, if granted, would also assure that the application to legalize the use is still pending before 801F Realty’s next scheduled court appearance in the lawsuit brought by the town. That court date is scheduled for Nov. 13 before state Supreme Court Judge Jeffrey Spinner.

Kenneth Robinson, an attorney for the applicant, said in a letter to the town that the reason they requested the adjournment to Nov. 14 is because the principal of 801F Realty Corp, Eugene Buccellato, died two weeks ago and the company is in a transition process. Mr. Buccellato was responsible for the Jamesport location and was the one who signed the ZBA application on 801F Realty Corp’s behalf, Mr. Robinson wrote.

In addition, he said the person who prepared the plans for the application, Michael Papsidero, will not be available on Oct. 10.

Bill Duffy, the assistant town attorney who handles planning issues, said Monday that he has instructed the planning department not to automatically grant the adjournment, and to allow the ZBA members to discuss it and make a decision on the request at Thursday’s meeting.

09/30/13 8:00am
09/30/2013 8:00 AM
FILE PHOTO | Town officials have said the digital sign at the Valero station in Jamesport violates historic district codes.

FILE PHOTO | Town officials have said the digital sign at the Valero station in Jamesport violates historic district codes.

When the new bowling alley in Riverhead proposed erecting an animated billboard, it caused many people to wonder about the lit-up Valero price sign in downtown Jamesport, which similarly violates town code.

“What happened?” they asked. “I thought the town was going to make them take that down!”

Setting out to learn about town actions with regard to the Valero sign, I encountered a familiar roadblock: a FOIL request denial. I realized the town’s routine and cavalier obstruction of taxpayer requests for information is a far more important story than failure to enforce sign codes.

The opening statement of New York’s FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) statute says: “a free society is maintained when government is responsive and responsible to the public, and when the public is aware of governmental actions.” It couldn’t be more plain.

Why, then, does our town government so often fail to deliver requested information?

I haven’t kept track, but probably have had more FOIL requests rejected than filled. I’ve seen massive files withheld because they’re deemed “intra-agency material,” though exempt external correspondence was included. Another typical reason/rejection response: “It’s all being discussed with counsel, and is therefore privileged.”

Baloney.

My Valero request was sent to town code enforcement and the town attorney. Code enforcement rejected it, saying deputy town attorney Bill Duffy directed them to do so because the information, “if disclosed, would interfere with law enforcement investigations or judicial proceedings.”

That’s a particularly lame excuse in this case. I contacted Mr. Duffy, but he didn’t return my calls. Because this rejection was so blatantly wrong, I thought about appealing it. I then remembered Mr. Duffy is also the town’s designated FOIL appeals officer; that battle was already lost.

Though an issue of minor consequence, this matter was so simple and straightforward that it made a great example; I contacted the Committee on Open Government (COOG), the state agency that oversees FOIL implementation. In response, the COOG assistant director made many useful observations.

Specifically on the denial of Valero information, she said: “If the agency has issued a notice of violation or a summons for violation of a zoning code, such notice would be required to be made public upon request for various reasons — one, it is likely that it is part of the public record at the courthouse; two, it would represent a final agency determination, which is required to be made public pursuant to section 87(2)(g); three, it would be difficult, if not impossible, in my opinion, for an agency to show that a record such as this if disclosed, would interfere with an investigation or judicial proceeding.”

(About the common “discussed with counsel” excuse, COOG said: “Merely because records are discussed with an attorney does not make them attorney-client privileged.”)

These are strong words, and it appears that Mr. Duffy is unequivocally wrong. If he returned my phone calls, I’d tell him so.

The point is not that secrets are being kept about the Valero sign (though they are); the point is that every day, residents are routinely and illegally blocked in their efforts to get information about the workings of this town.

It’s not always by denial. A taxpayer sought landfill records and was prepared to pay the 25¢ per page copying fee. The FOIL officer said the taxpayer must first pay $125 to have the 600-page file redacted … after which he could look at the pages, decide which he needed, and then pay copying costs. Outrageous. (Did the town charge this “redacting fee” multiple times for the same file?)

To be clear, plenty of folks working at Town Hall understand their job is to serve the public, and seem to enjoy doing so. Prompt and courteous assistance on some FOIL requests is not uncommon. The town clerk’s office, for example, is unfailingly helpful and incredibly efficient.

Yet, in some areas information is given grudgingly, and every request is treated as a nuisance. The town attorney’s office seems consistently prone to naysaying, foot-dragging, and abusive decisions. This must change.

Last year, Supervisor Walter and three council members joined town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz at a COOG forum on FOIL implementation. Was that just for show?

Back to Valero. The sign went up in 2008. In January 2009, Riverhead filed suit in state Supreme Court against the owner. Since that filing, there have been four motions, two conferences, 91 adjournments, and 0 decisions, with no activity since August 2010. (This info is from the court system website.)

Taxpayers deserve to know: 1) what actions code enforcement officers took before the lawsuit was filed; 2) whether the town sought injunctive relief to — at the very least — turn the sign off; 3) whether fines are being imposed and collected for this small-but-flagrant violation; 4) why there’s been literally no progress on this case in over three years.

The town’s position is that we’re not entitled to know any of these things, even though the state FOIL committee says that’s wrong.

Town attorneys are hired by, and take direction from, the Town Board. Voters who find this behavior troubling should remember that the incumbent supervisor and council members are extremely unlikely to fix this pervasive problem. We need representatives who will treat residents with greater respect, and who will obey the law.

Larry Simms owns a home in South Jamesport and is a principal in a firm that licenses commercial flooring technology. He is active in savemainroad.org, an advocacy group dedicated to preserving the character of the Main Road corridor and surrounding areas.