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ZBA rejects wine store plan for historic Jamesport farmhouse

A proposal to turn a historic Jamesport farmhouse into a retail wine store was rejected by the Riverhead Zoning Board of Appeals last Thursday.

The property, at the corner of Main Road and Tuthills Lane, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since August 2015. Owner Dayna Corlito of Hampton Bays was seeking a use variance to establish a retail wine shop there, which is not permitted under the property’s Rural Corridor zoning.

“You have an incredibly high standard to meet to get a use variance,” deputy town attorney Dawn Thomas told the applicant. “It’s very rarely granted.”

A use variance requires an applicant to show, among other things, that none of the uses that are permitted under the property’s zoning are financially viable.

The property is part of the Henry Tuthill farm, which features a farmhouse built in 1840 and a large barn built in the 1880s, according to Harry Fournaris, the attorney for Ms. Corlito.

The 10 uses that zoning permits on this 1.3-acre property include agriculture, antique and craft stores, a nursery, a museum, a library, a school, a place of worship, parks and playgrounds and a one- or two-family house, he said. Retail is also allowed, but only along Route 25 between South Jamesport and Washington avenues.

The farmhouse is currently rented to a real estate company, a use that was allowed before the town changed the zoning in 2003.

“Our idea was not to allow buses or limos,” Mr. Fournaris said. “We’re not looking for that intensive of a use.”

Speakers at a March 9 public hearing on the proposal opposed the use variance.

“I feel like when zoning is changed, it puts us at risk for having a non-residential place to live,” said Main Road resident Amanda DeArmitt.

The Rural Corridor zoning protects the character of area, added Marie LeBrun of Aquebogue.

“If we change this, it will be just like something on Route 58,” she said, pointing out that there are a school and a martial arts school within 200 feet of the proposed wine store.

“Why not simply raise the rent?” Aquebogue resident Joan Zaniskey asked in response to the applicant’s contention that the $12,000 annual rent paid by the real estate company isn’t enough.

Jamesport resident John Anderson said there’s also a fitness van at the premises as well as yard sales on the weekend, and wondered how many uses she could have on the site.

“The biggest problem I have is that this is the most dangerous intersection in the Town of Riverhead,” Mr. Anderson said on March 9.

Ms. Corlito said several winery owners favor the proposal, although none spoke at the hearing, because vineyards that don’t have a tasting room could use this one.

“This would benefit a lot of the growers on the North Fork,” she said.

Ms. Corlito had said at a March 23 ZBA hearing on the proposal that her original plan was to put a bistro there, but that would have cost about $1 million and that three bistros have gone out of business recently at a location up the road.

The ZBA decision issued Thursday said Ms. Corlito failed to meet the standards for a use variance because she never brought an appraiser to testify at the hearings, never presented evidence that she’d sought to raise the real estate company’s rent, never showed why her hardship was unique, as required by law, and never showed that the proposed use would not alter the character of the neighborhood, as several speakers had argued it would.

The hardship in this case was “self-created,” the ZBA ruling stated.

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Photo credit: Tim Gannon