Town gets warrant to inspect crumbling former restaurant building

Riverhead fire marshals conduct an interior inspection of the long dormant restaurant on 307 Griffing Avenue Thursday
Riverhead fire marshals conduct an interior inspection of the long dormant restaurant on 307 Griffing Avenue Thursday. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Riverhead Town fire marshals, acting on a court-ordered search warrant, inspected the interior of a dilapidated building on Griffing Avenue on Thursday that’s been vacant and crumbling for more than 15 years.

Town officials said the fire marshals are expected to issue a report soon indicating whether the building is structurally sound. 

The former Courthouse Restaurant building on 307 Griffing Avenue, abutting Railroad Avenue, was built more than 125 years ago and had operated under the names Courthouse Restaurant and J.P. Michael’s.

New York State Liquor Authority records indicate the liquor license for the premises was last valid on Oct. 31, 1998, when J. P. Michael’s closed.

Deputy Town Attorney Dan McCormick said the town fire marshals did an interior inspection of the building on Thursday, and that the town is awaiting their conclusions on the condition of the building before deciding what to do next.

In November, the town fire marshal’s office posted a “notice of unsafe structure and dangerous condition” warning on the door of the building after doing an exterior inspection.

The notice stated: “The roof is collapsed exposing roof rafters to the elements, rubber roofing is hanging over the sides of the building, soffits are rotted away in several areas, rubbish and other refuse has accumulated about the property, vegetation is overgrown and vermin activity has been observed.”

It said the building is unsafe and posed a threat to public health.

“There’s holes in the roof and there’s rodents coming out of it,” Councilman John Dunleavy said at the time. “The sides are all boarded up, but the roof isn’t. [The owner] had a canvas on it, but I guess the canvas blew off. We asked him to fix it up, but nothing’s happened. As the building sits there, it deteriorates more.”

The November notice indicated that the Town Board would hold a public hearing pursuant to Chapter 54 of the Town Code, which gives a property owner a certain amount of time to secure and clean up their property, or else the town will do so and charge the cost to the property owner’s tax bill.

However, the Town Board never held that public hearing.

“That was before we came to the conclusion it would be important to inspect the entire premises, both exterior and interior, to determine safety concerns such as whether the building is structurally sound,” Mr. McCormick said. “That’s the most important thing. God forbid there’s a fire, and we’ve got emergency personnel on the scene. We’d hate to expose them to danger.”

Depending on what the fire marshal’s determine in their report, which could take about week or so to complete, the corrective action could be either to clean up the property and secure the building or to require it to be demolished, Mr. McCormick said.

“The town is obligated to respect private property rights. That’s always something that we take very seriously in the town,” he said.

“Often people think the town is not moving as quickly as it should, but again, we are constrained by present properly rights law.”

Mr. McCormick said the property owner is listed on the deed as Hampton Pines Hotel Incorporated, although town tax records list the owner as Ebb Tide Bay LTD and Libra VII LTD. Both have the same Southampton address listed under the name Lyle Pike, who town officials say is the property owner.

Mr. Pike did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

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