The vacant former Lane Bryant storefront in Riverhead Centre is now being proposed as a restaurant.
The Riverhead Town Board discussed the proposal at its work session Thursday and ruled out a request for two restaurants in that space, but agreed to schedule a public hearing on the special permit application to allow one restaurant.
However, board members plan to use the application as leverage to require Riverhead Centre to approve a cross easement with the property to the east, where the late Irwin Garsten has town approval to build a 60,000-square foot shopping center, which has yet to be started.
The cross easement, which Garsten had already approved, would allow traffic to go from one shopping center to the other without getting back on Route 58.
Attorney Patricia Moore, representing Riverhead Centre, the 50-acre shopping center on Mill Road and Route 58, said the shopping center first opened in 2003, a year before the zoning was changed from Business B, which permits restaurants, to Destination Retail Center, which does not.
The 395,000-square-foot shopping center already has two small restaurants — Country Rotisserie and Strathmore Bagel Cafe — along with a free-standing restaurant, TGIFridays, and a currently vacant spot that has been a restaurant site in the past and is currently being proposed for an International House of Pancakes. In addition, the Chase Bank site previously was a Krispy Kreme restaurant.
Ms. Moore argued that since this part of the center was approved under Business B zoning, adding another restaurant is considered an expansion of a pre-existing, non-conforming use, which is allowed by special permit from the Town Board, even though restaurants are not permitted under the site’s current zoning.
The town’s chief building inspector, Brad Hammond, also said in a letter in January that a restaurant can be permitted with a special permit in the former Lane Bryant suite as a pre-existing, non-conforming use.
The 4,921-square-foot vacant suite is located just west of Mattress Firm, and north of Chase Bank, and has been vacant for about two years.
Ms. Moore asked that they be given “flexibility” to allow either one restaurant or two at the site, since some potential tenants have asked for more or less space than others. She said between 120 and 160 seats could fit on the site.
“We have not been able to secure a tenant without knowing the timeline for when the special permit might be approved,” she said.
Town Board members rejected that part of the proposal.
“I have a problem with that,” said Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who said what Ms. Moore proposed sounded like a strip mail.
“I think it’s precedent setting,” Ms. Giglio said, adding that the site is near a dangerous corner.
She felt that allowing just one more was more suitable to the location.
“I want the space occupied,” said Councilman Tim Hubbard. “I don’t want to see it unoccupied, but I would prefer one restaurant to two.”
“I think the restaurant use, we’re all in agreement with,” said Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith. “It’s the size and configuration” that’s at issue.
Councilman Jim Wooten voiced support for having just one restaurant at the site, while Councilwoman Catherine Kent said there are too many fast food restaurants already.
Ms. Moore said these would not necessarily be fast food restaurants.
The board has yet to formally schedule the public hearing required for the special permit application.
Photo: Riverhead Centre wants to put restaurant in the vacant former Lane Bryant site. (Credit: Tim Gannon)