Hawkins Inn embroiled in breezeway dispute

11/16/2011 8:36 AM |

COURTESY PHOTO| An artist’s rendering of the breezeway proposed for the Jedediah Hawkins Inn property in Jamesport.

If you construct a breezeway that connects two buildings, do you then have one building?

Or two? That’s the crux of an argument involving the historic Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport.

According to Riverhead’s town code, the answer to that question would be one building.

In June, the property’s owners submitted a site plan application for a breezeway that would connect the Luce & Hawkins Restaurant to an old barn at the rear of the property that is currently used only for occasional art shows.

The Riverhead Planning Board has a resolution scheduled for Thursday’s 3 p.m. meeting to potentially approve the breezeway.

Some neighbors and representatives of civic groups, however, see the breezeway as a way to “get around” town code and expand the uses of the property.

The town code defines a breezeway as “a roof which may or may not be supported by columns or pillars, tied into two buildings by structural members. A ‘breezeway’  so constructed shall be considered as a part of the building and the two buildings which it connects shall be considered as one building.”

“This is just another creative way to get around the code,” said Dominique Mendez, president of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, which seeks to combine the efforts of various civic groups in town.

“This gives them a way to get into multiple buildings, and this applicant has tried so many times to get the code changed to allow them to have multiple buildings,” Ms. Mendez said.

Some neighbors of the Jedediah Hawkins Inn have complained in the past about noise at catered events held there, and have said they oppose permitting the barn to be used for catering.

But Keith Luce, a partner in the business, said the business have no intention of using the barn for catering or outdoor events.

While he wouldn’t comment specifically on the breezeway application, Mr. Luce said, “It’s no secret that we would like to be able to make better use of the barn.”

Specifically, he said, they would like to use the barn for six additional guest rooms, to complement the six rooms that already exist in the restaurant building.

Mr. Luce said that while people like the restoration done at the inn, the business needs to be profitable to survive, and the art shows held in the barn don’t make money.

“I’m sensitive to the fact that most of the civic groups and our neighbors don’t want that area used for banquets and that sort of thing because of traffic and noise,” Mr. Luce said. “So out of respect for them, we have no intention to use it that way. But we have a barn that’s just sitting there empty. We’d like to use it for more rooms. Having a few more guest rooms would really help our revenue.”

The Hawkins house was built in 1863 as the home of merchant Captain Jedediah Hawkins and eventually fell into disrepair before being restored and renovated as a restaurant in 2006.

There is currently no formal application to convert the barn into guest rooms, as the current site plan involves only the breezeway, which is 20 feet wide and about 150 feet long, according to town planners.

The issue was also brought up at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting, where Supervisor Sean Walter said he met with members of the Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association and they didn’t seem to be opposed to the breezeway plan.

“This is a family-owned business, there’s been no public outcry except for the people that show up at board meetings,” Mr. Walter said, apparently referring to the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Committee members.

Angela DeVito, a member of the civic association who was at the meeting Mr. Walter referred to, disputed his take on what occurred.

She said the group supports the Hawkins Inn and the restoration that occurred there, but did not say they support the breezeway.

“We’re concerned about the continuation of expansion of uses at Hawkins,” Ms. DeVito said.

Bill Welsh, who lives across the street from the Hawkins Inn, said that in the past, there have been noise problems at the Inn.

“I didn’t appreciate getting blasted out of my bed on a Thursday night in September when they had an outdoor wedding,” he said. “I’m sick of coming to them about one thing or another, whether it be parking in a residential lot, or having an extension of outdoor weddings, or the barn used as an exhibition center when it’s supposed to be used as storage.

Mr. Welsh acknowledged that there have not been outdoor weddings on the property in more than a year, but added, “There was a problem there and I’m concerned they will come back to that.”

Hawkins Inn representatives say they have not received any complaints in more than a year.

Councilmen George Gabrielsen and Jim Wooten said they haven’t received complaints about the proposed breezeway, other than at Tuesday’s meeting.
But Mr. Wooten said he thinks the town’s definition of breezeway is “ridiculous” and should be changed, agreeing with

Ms. Mendez, who says the town code, as written, doesn’t make sense.

“They want everyone to believe that a path over 150 feet long with a plastic roof that has a road going through it makes a historic country inn and a barn a single structure,” Ms. Mendez said in an interview. “Why? Because a country inn must be housed in a single building and this one wants to get bigger and bigger in the midst of a residential area in Jamesport.”

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, the Town Board’s liaison to the code revision committee, is in agreement with Ms. Mendez, and pointed out that neighboring Southold Town’s code doesn’t indicate a breezeway makes two buildings count as one, like Riverhead’s does.

“I think it’s silly and it needs to be changed,” Ms. Giglio said of the code’s breezeway definition. “I don’t think that a breezeway connecting an accessory building to a principal building should make both structures a principal building.”

While it’s too late to change the code to block this specific project, Ms. Giglio said — explaining that the town would be setting itself up for a lawsuit if it tried — the code revision committee is planning to take up this issue

Ms. Giglio said she would prefer Southold’s definition of breezeway, which states: “Open construction with a roof projecting from the outside wall of a building, not to exceed dimensions of eight feet by 10 feet, connecting the main building and a garage. Other types of attachments which extend more than 10 feet, or exceed 80 square feet in area, shall not attach a main building to a separate building unless such attachment meets the requirements of livable floor area.”

Riverhead town planning director Rick Hanley said any change in the town code definition of breezeway would be subject to a public hearing and mandatory hearing notice periods of at least a month, and could not possibly get on the books before the Hawkins breezeway application comes up for a vote before the Planning Board.

Ms. Mendez said civics have been asking the town to change the definition for months, and nothing has happened.

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