NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Jamesport Manor Inn restaurant operates in the site of what was once a long-vacant Victorian-style house on Manor Lane.
The Jamesport Manor Inn’s proposal to add a catering hall to its Manor Lane property is back on the town’s agenda.
A state Supreme Court judge last week overturned an earlier court ruling on the case, saying the catering hall application must go back to Riverhead’s Zoning Board of Appeals for a ruling on its merits.
“This is a good thing,” said John Ciarelli, a Manor Inn attorney, told the News-Review. “We’re going to go full speed ahead and try to get this thing resolved finally.”
In 2009, property owners Matt Kar and Frank McVeigh had sought a ZBA ruling challenging town planning director Rick Hanley’s decision that the plans needed a special permit from the Town Board, in addition to a site plan approval from the Planning Board.
But the ZBA in 2009 denied that application on the grounds that the hearing notice was not properly posted — a move the judge last week called “arbitrary and capricious” — rather than on the merits of the case.
That led to a lawsuit filed by Kar-McVeigh LLC in 2009, which was decided in the inn owners’ favor by state Supreme Court Justice Peter Cohalan in 2010.
Judge Cohalan, in that ruling, ordered the town to process the application. The town appealed that ruling, and in March of 2012, an appeals court overturned Judge Cohalan’s ruling, saying he was wrong in ruling that the town had to process the application before the town’s appeal on the motion to dismiss the case was decided.
The appeals court also rejected the town’s motion to dismiss the case.
This put the case back in state Supreme Court.
Judge Cohalan retired last year, and his replacement, Judge Joseph Farneti, ruled last Tuesday that the whole thing had to go back to the ZBA for a decision on the merits.
He said in his decision that the ZBA determination to reject the application based on the improper hearing notice “lacks a rational basis and is arbitrary and capricious.”
Jamesport Manor Inn had previously received a ZBA ruling from Judge Cohalan in 2007 upholding a 2004 ZBA ruling allowed Kar-McVeigh to have catering, but only in the main building.
That decision pertained to a lawsuit filed by neighbors, which ultimately was decided in Kar-McVeigh’s favor.
But when the inn owners sought permission to build a temporary tent or a permanent 4,000-square-foot barn for catering on the four-acre site that also houses the Jamesport Manor Inn, Mr. Hanley ruled that this would constitute an expansion of a “nonconforming, pre-existing use,” which requires a special permit from the Town Board.
A nonconforming, pre-existing use is one that doesn’t conform with the property’s zoning, but which has existed before zoning.
Mr. Ciarelli said the catering hall is needed for the restaurant and inn to be economically feasible.
“I don’t think the community is going to feel an impact at all,” he said. “It’s not like the catering use is going to happen every day. It’s a nicely run operation, the property is beautiful and there’s nothing going to happen that will change that. They spent a lot of money trying to restore the building and this is an economic necessity for them.”
Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said he was aware of the court ruling, but deferred to the ZBA.
“It’s a ZBA ruling, so it’s an issue for the ZBA to decide whether they will appeal the ruling or not,” Mr. Walter said.
The Town Board funds the ZBA and appoints its members, but other for that, the ZBA is an autonomous board, he added.