The Riverhead Town Zoning Board of Appeals agreed unanimously to uphold a use permit by the town's building department for a proposed food processing facility at the former Blackman facility in Calverton -- denying an appeal by a neighbor asking that the decision be vacated.
The decision followed over two hours of fierce public debate.
"We're not surprised," said John King, who hopes to site a food processing facility at the site. "We think it was the right thing to do. We're glad the community was heard."
Scores of residents turned out for a public hearing regarding a request to vacate an approval issued by the Riverhead Town building department for a food processing company looking to set up shop on Sound Avenue in Calverton.
King, owner of J. Kings Food Service Professionals, Inc., a food service company, is set to purchase the 108,000 square foot site of the former Blackman Plumbing Supply building at 2711 Sound Avenue.
But roadblocks have put the brakes on the project's progress: In recent months, at least one neighbor has protested that the proposed business needed an approval from the Riverhead zoning board of appeals before it could open its doors.
Steven Angel, Riverhead attorney for Austin Warner, a neighbor who has protested that the approval was granted and asked that the zoning board of appeals rule on the issue, asked that the prior zoning use permit approval, issued by building permits coordinator Sharon Klos, be vacated.
"It is our position that the use permit was improperly issued and you as a board should vacate it," Angel said.
Angel said a use variance for a warehouse was issued in 1974, making the former Blackman builidng a legal warehouse in an agricultural zone.
The variance, he said, "can't be changed by a simple stroke of the pen without proper analysis."
Uses proposed for the site, including food processing, chopping of vegetable, cooling facilities, and storage space for the Long Island Farm Bureau and Long Island Wine Council, need to be examined, Angel said.
He argued that the building is a stand alone; no farming is done on the parcel. Angel also said no formal plans have been submitted and no state environmental quality review has been undertaken.
Many have voiced support for the project, Angel said. "But that's not the issue. The question," he said to the ZBA, is whether the "town acts based upon laws or act as you feel like it." The approval that was granted, he said, "deprived your board of jurisdiction. There is no way this approval can be sanctioned." Angel asked that the approval be vacated and a "proper application" be submitted. He added that many questions remain, including how many trucks will be coming and going, how much parking will be needed, and whether a bakery or fish component will be added later. "We know nothing about the application," he said. "There was application to change the use variance but miraculously, we already have an approval."
Angel asked for transparency; applause followed his statements.
Klos took to the podium and said she reviewed the history and showed that the warehouse use has been in existence "since the beginning and not discontinued."
Bar coding and repackaging, which will be undertaken at the site, are within the scope of a warehouse operation, Klos said. "I was satisfied with the application and I issued the permit," she said.
The ZBA asked how she determined continued use; Klos said she reviewed building department records.
Anne M. Bracken, attorney for King, had sworn depositions, including one from Executive Director of the Long Island Farm Bureau Joe Gergela.
She said she "strongly disagreed" with Angel's statement that the proposed use is not appropriate for the agriculturally zoned land. "This would be good for the farming community, " Bracken said. The purpose of the agricultural production zoning, (APZ) she said, is to facilitate existing and future agricultural land use.
Bracken said, after meeting with Riverhead town officials, he was told, despite Angel's statements, to complete an application for a use permit, which he did.
No one has seen plans, she said, because he doesn't officially own the building yet. If the building is purchased, Bracken said, the structure will not be changed, and operations will not be 24/7. King said his normal hours of operation are from approximately 5 a.m. till 7 p.m.
In addition, Bracken said, the law requires a property used for a pre-existing, non-conforming use be allowed to continue its non-conforming use, as long as that use is continuous.
"I don't have any proof that it's been out of operation for more than a year," ZBA member Leroy Barnes said.
A sworn affidavit was received from former Blackman owner saying the use was continuous, Bracken said.
Gergela stepped up to the podium to say that the project had been thoroughly vetted and was supported by the LIFB, the Long Island Wine Council, and many others. "This is a great project," Gergela said. "We think this is a home run for the long-term viablity for the agricultural industyr to stay here."
King said he wanted to be a good neighbor and said there would be no trucks parked outside and no outdoor cooling; all cooling and refrigeration units would be inside. There will be no bakery onsite, he said.
Neigbhors filed up to the podium to express concerns about traffic, noise, and about the lack of notification they felt had taken place.
"I think Mr. King's plan is a great one but not at this location," said Kevin Wells; he suggested Enterprise Park at Calverton might be more appropriate.
One farmer said he and other farmers sell local and do not need their goods sold to large supermarkets miles away.
In recent weeks, Georgette Keller, president of the Jamesport/South Jamesport Civic Association, questioned the "under the rug approvals" the project had received and said there were many issues still to be vetted.
Pat Wright, a Riverhead businessman, said to the ZBA, "I've got trust in you -- and I've got trust in him."
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