Farm Country Kitchen in Riverhead was granted another one-year extension last Thursday on a zoning variance previously received from the Riverhead Zoning Board of Appeals.
The variance gives the West Main Street restaurant authorization for a parking lot that is approximately 575 feet from the business, rather than the 200 feet allowed by the town code. ZBA members granted approved the extension unanimously and without comment.
The off-site parking lot has 37 parking spaces and occupies a half-acre parcel at 195 Sweezy Ave., just south of the railroad tracks.
The restaurant became legal in August, when the town Planning Board approved its site plan after a legal battle that lasted about five years. In 2012, the town said the popular 69-seat restaurant had approvals only for a take-out deli and was operating illegally as a sit-down restaurant. Inadequate parking was also a major concern, as town officials said cars were forced to back out into Route 25 and customers were parking across the street.
In July, the board settled the lawsuit on the conditions that the application receive final site plan approval from the Planning Board and that the restaurant provide valet parking for customers to and from the Sweezy Avenue lot.
The variance allowing off-site parking was first granted in 2014 and has been extended several times since to give the restaurant owners enough time to prepare the parcel for use as customer parking.
“My client’s use of it, for whatever purposes, would be a major improvement of what was there before,” attorney Peter Danowski said last Thursday evening.
ZBA member Leroy Barnes agreed the Sweezy Avenue site is currently an eyesore.
“The neighborhood and the improvement that Farm Country has done to the area will be a benefit to the town,” Mr. Danowski added. “I agree with those that say, if you have a popular place, you need more parking, and this is a proposal that adds more parking. I think that’s just a major benefit.