A business plan for a microbrewery that would be sited at an almost-100 year old abandoned schoolhouse on Sound Avenue was presented to the Riverhead Town Zoning Board of Appeals last week.
The proposal has incited some resistance from community members in its earliest stages.
According to the concept business plan presented to the ZBA, the principals would invest a minimum of $300,000 to build a microbrewery that would include a tasting room, which would be open from noon to 5 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and fom 11 a.m. till 8 p.m. on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
The brewery, according to plans, would be family friendly and would include the standing tasting bar, and two additional rooms. One room would include small tables and chairs for a "light food area" that would sell snacks; another counter would offer gifts and souvenirs for sale.
The second room would be used for the brewing production area; educational presentions would be given. Classes and students would be invited from local schools.
Outside, the plan calls for exterior gardens with small tables where guests would be entertained by a piano player or jazz group -- the patio would be available for visitors' special use in season, for birthdays, anniversaries, or other special occasions.
Seasonal events including hay rides, pumpkin picking, fall festivals, Easter egg hunts, pony rides, and children's events -- with special permits required in advance.
Attorney John Ciarelli, representing property owner John Reeve, Jr., said the concept for McCarthy's On The Green, Inc., presented by principals Tim McCarthy, of Lake Grove, and George Greene, of Wading River, who would rent the space, as a microbrewery, is a use consistent with ag-tourism. He said the business would be allowable under a pre-existing, non-conforming use.
Another alternative, he said, is that a special permit be granted to exchange one non-conforming use for another.
The application has been nixed in the past by the town's planning department because the parcel is smaller than what is required by town code to support an accessory agricultural use.
Ciarelli said "reasonable conditions" would be imposed. Another alternative, he suggested, would be to establish an agricultural production use on a non-conforming lot.
The concept has sparked fears amongst some neighbors concerned about a microbrewery on Sound Avenue.
"It is one thing for a Riverhead farmer to grow hops and have a tasting room for his homebrewed beer on his farm; it’s a whole other thing when two guys want to open up a tavern/restaurant on Sound Avenue," said Dominique Mendez of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition Inc.
"It’s just not what the agricultural protection zone is all about, nor our rural corridor," Mendez added. "It bogs the mind that anyone would seriously consider allowing a microbrewery as an accessory use to a farm that doesn’t exist — and the alternative variance requests are just about as ridiculous. I doubt you’d hear one peep opposing this venture if it were going downtown in one of the many vacant properties. It simply doesn’t conform to zoning, doesn’t qualify for a variance, and doesn’t belong on Sound Avenue."
Georgette Keller, president of the Jamesport/South Jamesport Civic Association and founder of the Save Main Road organization, said while she hasn't read the business proposal yet, she believes the town has its work cut out ahead. "Until the ZBA determines whether the pre-existing, non-conforming use is continuing or whether it lapsed makes a difference here," she said.
If the property owner applied for landmark status, that could allow for some flexibility of zoning as a condition of granting the status, Keller said. "I don't have an up or down vote on it yet but I think it's going to be a long road before getting there. I hope the town does its due diligence before making a decision," she said.
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