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Town targets Salvation Army’s drop-off bins, saying they’re ‘illegal’ and need to be removed

Longstanding drop-off bins at the Salvation Army’s Family Store on East Main Street have come under scrutiny and may be removed unless approved by the Riverhead Zoning Board of Appeals.

The store must show that it is a church or place of worship in order to comply with town code, which does not allow the bins in the current zoning district. The bins have long been available for residents to donate gently used items such as clothing.

“They are illegal and need to be removed, unless approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals,” said Riverhead Town Building and Planning Administrator Jeff Murphree by email Tuesday. Town officials did not immediately indicate why the town is targeting the Salvation Army bins now.

The Salvation Army is asking the ZBA for an interpretation that the store is used as a church or place of worship, since the Town Code only allows drop-off bins in zoning category on premises “containing a church, temple, house of worship or other religious institution, regardless of the zoning district in which it is located.”

The Destination Retail Center (DRC) and Business Center (BC) Zoning Districts, both on Route 58, also are allowed to have drop-off bins.

The ZBA will hold a hearing on the issue at 7 p.m. Thursday.

The public can attend and comment in person or by Zoom. Residents also can watch on Channel 22, which is available for Cablevision subscribers or streaming on the town website.

“The Salvation Army has been here since 1985 and those drop-off bins have been out there since pretty much the same time,” said Alfred Lucia, the attorney for the Salvation Army, in an interview Tuesday. Mr. Lucia said the town hasn’t given him anything in writing to explain what triggers the town’s enforcement action.

Andreas Sofokils, the town’s senior building inspector, wrote to the Salvation Army on Aug. 27 saying that drop-off bins are not in accordance with the town zoning code, and that the Salvation Army’s building permit for the bins was denied.

The bins are located in the Downtown Center-1 district, and drop-off bins are not permitted in that zone, Mr. Sofokils wrote.

He also wrote that any relief granted by the ZBA “does not constitute satisfying requirements for a building permit. Further review by this and other offices may be necessary.”

Mr. Lucia said the Salvation Army is a religious corporation which was organized under New York State laws in 1899.

“The Salvation Army is a religious and charitable organization, the general objects and purposes which are to help those in need, visitation among the poor and sick, rehabilitation of those members of society who have fallen victim to substance abuse, and the preaching of the Gospel,” the Salvation Army wrote in their application for a drop-off bin permit. 

“The Town Code doesn’t define what a church is, it doesn’t define what a house of worship is, or what a religious institution is,” Mr. Lucia said.

He said they’re seeking an interpretation that the store can be deemed a church of place of worship since it is used for prayer services “from time to time.”

“We were trying to work with the town by moving the bins to the back of the property, but the town wasn’t willing to accept that,” Mr. Lucia said. 

The Town Code specifically says that “drop-off bins shall be allowed on any premises containing a church, temple, house of worship or other religious institution, regardless of the zoning district in which it is located.”

It also limits them to two bins on any one tax map lot.

The Salvation Army has about six on its East Main Street property.

The Salvation Army’s mission statement on its website says it is “an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.”