A popular West Main Street restaurant took a major step forward Thursday in its nearly six-year long legal battle with the Town of Riverhead.
Farm Country Kitchen received a preliminary site plan approval from the town Planning Board for its restaurant, which has already been in operation since 2010. A final site plan still needs to be granted.
The resolution to preliminarily approve the eatery, which has been described in the New York Times as a “hidden gem,” allows for the conversion of the “take-out food service establishment into a 69-seat restaurant with outdoor and indoor seating.” It also calls for 37 asphalt parking spaces at a parcel on Sweezy Avenue, a valet parking drop-off and a vehicle turnaround area on the adjacent parcel to the west.
The Planning Board approved the resolution 3-0-1 with vice chairman Ed Densieski abstaining from the vote and member Richard O’Dea absent.
Both Mr. Densieski and board chairman Stan Carey expressed disappointment in the lengthy process in which the restaurant remained open without the necessary permits.
“I’m not really happy they were able to operate so long without approvals,” Mr. Carey said after casting his vote in favor of the preliminary site plan. “But that’s outside of the purview of this board.”
He recognized that restaurant owner Tom Carson has since gone through the proper channels to get to the point where he could comfortably vote yes.
Mr. Densieski, meanwhile, noted that Mr. Carson has been a valuable member of the Riverhead community, but said he couldn’t support a parking plan that he still has concerns with.
“I don’t believe public safety has been truly considered in this parking plan,” he said.
In the past, Planning Board members expressed concerns about safety issues at Farm Country Kitchen, as patrons parked in front of the restaurant often back out into West Main Street traffic and those who park elsewhere have to walk across the busy street.
The Riverhead Town Board took Farm Country Kitchen to court in 2011, claiming it only had a certificate of occupancy for a take-out deli and that it had illegally expanded into a full-service restaurant. The town also said the establishment lacks sufficient on-premises parking. Town officials said they were unable to get the courts to shut down the business.
In 2013, Mr. Carson purchased the 0.7 acre lot on the west side of Swezey Avenue, just south of the railroad tracks, for use as a remote parking lot in hopes of alleviating parking concerns.