Riverhead Town takes step to fight Jamesport catering hall

Riverhead Town’s legal battle with the Jamesport Manor Inn is not over yet.

While a state supreme court judge last month overturned a town Zoning Board of Appeals ruling against the Inn and its catering operation, the town has filed a notice to appeal that verdict.

But that doesn’t mean the town will follow through, according to Supervisor Sean Walter.

The town has 30 days to file a notice of appeal, but it has six months to launch the appeal in court and could later decide not to do so, the supervisor said.

Mr. Walter said he still hadn’t read the court decision but had been advised by the town’s legal counsel that “the court has asked the ZBA to approve things that are not within its [the ZBA’s] legal jurisdiction to do. If that’s true, we can’t let it stand.”

Mr. Walter said he would prefer to work out a settlement with the property owners, but it’s still necessary to file the notice of appeal, even if the town later decides not to appeal.

“If we don’t file an appeal and the ruling calls for something we’re not capable of doing, we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place,” he said.

The Dec. 20 ruling by Justice Peter Cohalan overturned a 2009 ZBA ruling that rejected the inn’s application for a separate catering facility on its property; the ZBA had said “no” after finding the catering facility would constitute an expansion of a pre-existing, non-conforming restaurant use. But the court found that catering is a permitted accessory use to the property’s existing, although non-conforming, restaurant use in a residential zone.

Mr. Cohalan ordered the ZBA to “review and grant the two site plans” for a separate catering facility on the restaurant property.
The judge also directed the town to schedule a hearing on the site plan application within 20 days, on the assumption that the proposed catering facility is a permitted accessory use. In Riverhead Town, jurisdiction over site plans, which are commercial applications, lies with the Planning Board, not the ZBA or Town Board, and the Planning Board does not hold public hearings on site plan applications.

In 2008 and 2009, Jamesport Manor Inn owners Matt Kar and Frank McVeigh submitted a site plan seeking a temporary tent for catering, and then another plan for a permanent 4,072-square-foot barn built for catering. Both plans were rejected by town planning director Rick Hanley, who said a special permit would be needed because the proposal was an expansion of the pre-existing, non-conforming restaurant use.

The applicant challenged Mr. Hanley’s ruling at the ZBA, but the ZBA voted 3-1 to reject the challenge on the grounds that the applicant had deliberately failed to post a hearing notice on the property in an effort to force another adjournment of the hearing, which had been adjourned several times before that.

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