Grocery store proposed for former Caboose Pub site

The new owner of a property that one was home to the controversial Caboose Pub on Railroad Avenue is planning to build a grocery store on the site of the former bar and restaurant.

The Caboose Pub, also known as the Loose Caboose and Danny’s Den over the years, had its liquor license revoked in April of 2019 following a string of violent incidents there over the years, including a slashing in 2018 and a shooting that left two people seriously injured that same year.

There also was a murder at that site in 1996 when the establishment was known as Danny’s Den, but was under the same management. The murder was never solved.

The property was sold to 139 R.R. Plaza Inc. in Aug. 2019 for $850,000. That company is headed by Maximo Nunez, according to town records.

The Riverhead Town Planning Department has now received a site plan application proposing façade improvements to the existing commercial building, “as well as a change of use of the divided tenant spaces from a bar/tavern (formerly known as the Loose Caboose) and retail use to a grocery/supermarket use,” according to town planning aide Greg Bergman. 

In addition to the vacant Caboose Pub, the property at 133-139 Railroad Avenue also houses a barber shop and a taxi dispatcher.

“The building is in dire need of a facelift and that’s what the applicant is proposing to do,” Mr. Bergman said at Thursday’s Town Board work session. Asked about the possibility of shopping carts being left around the street near the proposed grocery, Pablo Rodriguez, the applicant’s design professional, told the board that they don’t expect to have a huge selection of products where people can do their weekly shopping.

“It’s more everyday needs than bulky items, he said. Shoppers would be more likely to have smaller baskets.

The site plan also proposes drainage, lighting, and parking lot improvements throughout the site, according to Mr. Bergman.

In addition, the site is located within the Riverhead Historic District and the Railroad Avenue Urban Renewal Area, which places site plan approval within the jurisdiction of the Town Board, rather than with the Planning Board, Mr. Bergman said.

The town’s Landmarks Preservation Commission said: “This one-story commercial structure was likely constructed in the 1920’s or 1930’s and is located in the Downtown Historic District.”

Mr. Bergman said there is an un-permitted expansion on the property. Mr. Rodriguez said they will remove that structure.

Mr. Rodriguez also asked the board for leniency on parking requirements, since they are currently six short of the required amount and will require a variance from the town Zoning Board of Appeals.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio suggested  making the area part of the town’s public parking district, where they would pay into a special parking tax.

The issue of the taxi dispatch also came up and officials expressed concerns about taxis lined up on the side of the road and people crossing the street to access them.

Mr. Rodriguez said the lease on the dispatch building may be expiring, and that the taxis may not be there in the future.

Overall, town officials voiced support for the proposal.

“Having been a police officer in this town for 32 years when the Loose Caboose existed, any improvement we can meet down there would be so much better,” Councilman Tim Hubbard said.

“I agree and I’m looking forward to seeing more stores down there,” Councilwoman Catherine Kent said. “It’s exciting.”

The project is classified as a Type 1 action, which requires a 30-day coordinated review of town, state and county agencies.

However, Mr. Bergman recommended the Town Board assume lead agency once the 30 days are up and issue a negative declaration, meaning an extensive environmental study need not be done. The proposed site improvements at the location of an existing commercial site will not have a significant negative environmental impact, nor will it impair the reasonable and orderly development of the surrounding area,” he said.