Should zoning be changed at Homeside Florist to make property more marketable?

The owners of the former Homeside Florist and Greenhouses property on Route 25 in Riverhead are trying to find a buyer. 

The popular business closed in December 2018 after 64 years.

Andrea Hanulac, an owner of the family-run business, and Jack O’Connor, a real estate broker, sought guidance from the Riverhead Town Board during last Thursday’s work session.

“The florist closed up because of the competition from Home Depot and Lowe’s,” Mr. O’Connor said. “This is [Ms. Hanulac’s family’s] lifeline right now. It’s the only asset they have as far as retiring and getting some money.”

The 4.9-acre property, just west of the intersection with County Road 105, has only one entrance/exit from Main Road, he said. 

“When they built County Road 105, they landlocked them,” Mr. O’Connor said. 

The property includes 1.3 acres of commercially zoned land, to the north, and 3.7 acres on the southern end that are zoned residential, he said. 

No formal applications have been filed for the property, according to Mr. O’Connor, who also said he has not yet begun to market it. 

Jeff Murphree, the town’s building and planning administrator, said planning department staff met with Mr. O’Connor about two weeks ago and discussed a proposal for a self-storage use on the property. 

“That’s a low-traffic-generating use and we thought that was a good use,” Mr. Murphree said. The planning staff suggested they go to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a use variance, since self-storage is not specifically permitted in the property’s Commercial/Residential Campus zone. 

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio suggested the site be considered for recreational uses — even paintball, since the Long Island Sports Park may need a new location if a solar farm is built on that property. Recreational uses are permitted on the property’s zoning. 

Mr. O’Connor said a lot of people would come for that use and it’s a difficult left turn. 

He asked the Town Board to give some consideration to rezoning the property for “some sort of commercial benign use.”

“I want to caution that we can’t have a property that’s up for sale and have a real estate agent here trying to change the zoning to make it more marketable,” said Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, adding that other properties would then want the same. 

Councilman Tim Hubbard said the town is not looking to change the zoning, despite what it said on the meeting agenda.

“That would be spot zoning,” he said. 

“But if we could do something like a ZBA variance to figure out how we could make this property more useful and marketable, so you’ll be able to do something with it, that’s why we decided to just get together here and throw our heads together and see if we could work something out, figure out how we could help you out in the situation here,” Mr. Hubbard said. 

“I was wondering why this was before us and not the ZBA,” Councilwoman Catherine Kent said. 

Ms. Giglio said the town is planning to update its master plan, as well, adding that if the applicant went before the ZBA for a use variance, they would have to provide proof that none of the already permitted uses for the property would be economically viable. 

She asked how the applicant knows that a self-storage facility would be marketable if they don’t they have someone actively interested in that use. Mr. O’Connor said they do have someone interested in putting self-storage there. 

Officials ultimately agreed that the ZBA variance option should be looked at, since the residential section of the property would be landlocked if someone else bought the commercial part — and that would not be considered a “self-created hardship.” The property owners would first have to submit a formal proposal for a use on the property before it could go to the ZBA. 

“I can’t tell the ZBA what to do,” Ms. Aguiar said, cautioning that the business was successful for many years despite the traffic situation. 

She said Mr. O’Connor should have begun marketing the property before coming to the Town Board. 

“It’s very bittersweet,” Ms. Hanulec said, holding back tears as the meeting ended.

“You touched a lot of lives for many years,” Ms. Aguiar said. “It will work out.”