Riverhead Town civics battle over car shop proposal

When it came to opposing a proposed shopping center on the corner of Park Road and Sound Avenue, members of the Sound Park Heights Civic Association in Reeves Park stood side by side with members of townwide environmental and civic groups like the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition and the North Fork Environmental Council.

But on the subject of whether Rich Vlacci’s R&K Precision Autoworks on Sound Avenue should be granted a special permit to double the size of that business, they broke ranks during a Town Board public hearing Tuesday.

Residents Mike Foley and Dorothy O’Haire, both vocal opponents of developer Kenn Barra’s proposed shopping center, both of whom said they were founding members of the Sound Park Heights Civic Association, urged the Town Board to grant a special permit to R&K.

Mr. Foley, who is also an RNPC member, said he’s gone to R&K about a dozen times for car repairs over the years.

“Each time, I’ve gotten an honest and fair price and excellent work,” he said. “Everyone in Reeves Park will tell you, he’s always there for the community.”

He said Mr. Vlacci always cleans up his shop area at the end of the day and complies with town codes.

Mr. Foley said that when environmental groups “don’t make exceptions for people who do the right thing, then we lose credibility as groups.”

“If ever there were a site plan that should be approved, it’s this one,” Ms. O’Haire said. The proposed expansion looks more residential and fits in better with the area than what’s there now, she said.

Sound Park Heights Civic Association president Eric Biegler said the association supports Mr. Vlacci’s proposed expansion.
Former councilman George Bartunek, who is an NFEC vice president, said R&K is seeking to expand a use that doesn’t comply with its zoning.

“Over the years, nonconforming uses should lapse,” he said. “A 100 percent expansion of a nonconforming use is a terrible precedent.”

Dominique Mendez of RNPC said the fact that Mr. Vlacci does good work and is a nice man “doesn’t change the fact that he’s asking for a 100 percent expansion of a nonconforming use on Sound Avenue.” She said an expansion that big is too big, and that her group seeks to protect Sound Avenue against over-commercialization.

Jim DeLuca, a representative for Mr. Vlacci, said the building has been used commercially since 1954 and has been owned by R&K since 1986.

He said Mr. Vlacci’s reputation for restoring cars is such that the television show “Pawn Stars” on Friday filmed an episode featuring his work.

Mr. Vlacci said he’s “sworn to secrecy” about the content of the show until it airs.

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