Landowners sue town over Wading River zoning changes

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Traffic along Route 25A in Wading River.

Two civil lawsuits were filed this week challenging Riverhead Town’s rezoning of Wading River properties that was based on recommendations in a Route 25A corridor study adopted last year.

The lawsuits were filed by the owners of two of the three large parcels that were rezoned.

One property is a vacant six-acre parcel on the south side of Route 25A owned by Knightland Inc., a company headed by East Wind Caterers’ owner, Kenney Barra.

The other is an 11-acre parcel owned by Constance Partridge, Maryann Stajk, and Kathleen Condzella.

The Knightland property has a site plan approval from the Town Board dating from November 2002 for a 50-room country inn with a 100-seat restaurant. In October 2012, The Town Board voted to change the zoning on that property from business CR to “multi-family residential/professional office,” (MFRP) a category that would permit neither the country inn nor the restaurant.

Owners of the Partridge-Stajk-Condzella property, also rezoned from business CR to MFRP in October 2012, had filed a site plan application on Dec. 5, 2011, for a commercial shopping center. That use would also not be permitted under the new zoning.

The town initiated the Wading River Corridor Study in July 2011, and it was completed in draft form a year later.

Both lawsuits were filed by the same attorney, John Wagner, and they contain similar language and claims.

The zoning changes “were not adopted in the interest of the public health, safety, or welfare, or based on valid zoning or planning interests, but were improperly, illegally and unconstitutionally designed and intended to halt the processing and approval of several pending development applications that were in conformance with subsisting zoning,” the lawsuits claim.

The property owners also claim the town’s actions were done to “appease individuals and civic groups opposed to development of privately-owned lands in accordance with subsisting zoning classifications and regulations.”

Supervisor Sean Walter declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuits, and Mr. Wagner could not be reached for comment.

The third large property rezoned as a result of the Corridor Study is a 5.6 acre farm owned by John Condzella and located between the other two parcels.

At a public hearing, Mr. Condzella supported the zone change, saying that having commercial development next door would make it difficult to farm.

The two lawsuits filed this week also claim that there were defects in the town’s approval of its 2003 master plan, a claim made in several other lawsuits still pending between Riverhead Town and landowners.

In addition to the property involved in the recent lawsuit, Knightland Inc. owns another parcel to the east, near the intersection of 25A and Sound Avenue. That property was not included in the Route 25A study because civic groups had sued the town over Planning Board approvals for a commercial project.

That suit was thrown out of state Supreme Court in January 2012.

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