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Twice rejected, owner of tiny lot is back with new restaurant plan

For the third time, a small restaurant is being proposed on the lot between Taco Bell and Harrison Avenue at this Route 58 intersection. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Thirteen months after the Riverhead Town Planning Board rejected a proposal to construct a 16-seat restaurant on the northwest corner of Harrison Avenue for the second time, the developer was back at Town Hall with a similar plan Thursday. 

Chuck Chockalingam of Guddha LLC has reduced the size of his proposed building from 1,300 to 1,000-square-feet and has eliminated all inside seating this time around. He appeared with his attorney asking the Planning Board to consider approving a take-out-only restaurant on the same small lot between Harrison Avenue and the existing Taco Bell.

“My client would like to have something go up,” said attorney Adam Grossman of Riverhead. “What would you like to see?”

The consensus among a majority of the board’s five members appeared to be something other than the restaurants Mr. Chockalingam has been proposing.

“I don’t think this works,” said Planning Board member Ed Densieski, one of three members to reject the previous proposal in July 2015. Even board member Richard O’Dea, one of two members who supported the failed plan last time around, questioned “what might put the board in the mood to do this?”

Mr. Chockalingam, an engineer, has claimed that he’s allowed to build a restaurant since the property’s designation as a single and separate lot was created in 1950 before local zoning. He also has existing approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals for several variances on the property.

But board members explained to Mr. Chockalingam and Mr. Grossman that it’s not so much the restaurant concept that concerns them, or the originally proposed seating, but rather safety issues that could arise from vehicles attempting to access the small lot at the busy intersection.

“[Building] size was not the problem,” Mr. Densieski said. “It’s how close [the proposed entrance] is to the corner.”

Mr. Chockalingam, whose company acquired the lot from the county in a tax default and first proposed a restaurant there in 2012, said the building could feature a take-out window, but would not have any indoor or outdoor seating. This would mean customers would be served quickly, Mr. Chockalingam said.

“[Customers] can pick up stuff and leave just like all the other takeout establishments,” he said.

But that didn’t satisfy everyone on the board.

“Even if they’re in and out in five minutes, you know how much traffic you can have there?” asked board member George Nunnaro.

In March 2014, the Planning Board voted against the first resolution to approve a restaurant there following a debate in which Mr. Chockalingam, who is of Indian descent, implied there was a bias against him.

On Thursday, Planning Board chairman Stan Carey advised Mr. Chockalingam to not spend any money on the project until the board conducts another visit to the unusual parcel and mulls what can be built there.

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