A portion of the parking lot on the north side of East Main Street was deeded to the Suffolk Theater more than a decade ago. The theater owner last week fenced it off. Photo: Denise Civiletti

At a time when downtown businesses are concerned about the supply of available parking spaces, the erection of a fence in a downtown Riverhead parking lot has stirred controversy.

Suffolk Theater owner Bob Castaldi fenced off part of the lot near the theater last week. The fence blocks vehicular access to the southwest corner of the parking lot behind the theater and the building to its west, preventing parking in 14 regular spaces and three handicapped spaces.

Castaldi said he owns a large part of the area in question and has an exclusive easement over the rest of it and he’s planning to begin to use the area for outdoor events.

The land — a little over 6,800-square-feet — was deeded and the easement granted by the town more than a decade ago, in 2006, according to Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter.

“I had no idea that the town had given him an exclusive easement over part of the parking lot and I don’t know why they would have granted the easement over a part of the parking lot that wraps behind the law firm next door,” Walter said.

The partners in that law firm, Esseks, Hefter and Angel are not happy. They’re so unhappy they’ve served Castaldi with a notice of eviction concerning the 600-square-feet of their building that the theater has been renting from the firm. The area is used as a “green room” for the theater.

“It’s a small room and two bathrooms, a makeup station and a small kitchen,” Castaldi said. “You have to provide some space for performers,” he said. Castaldi said the eviction notice said he has until the end of July to vacate.
He said he’s unsure what he’ll do to provide a green room now, but it’s a necessity.

“No green room, no acts, no acts, no theater,” Castaldi said.

“I don’t know that I’d say it was retaliatory exactly,” attorney Stephen Angel said of the eviction notice. “The fence went up with no notice. We’ve heard different reasons why. If you’re not being considerate of us, we’re not going to have consideration for you,” Angel said.

The theater has been occupying the leased premises as a holdover tenant after its one-year lease expired, Angel said. That means it’s a month-to-month tenancy and the landlord can terminate it upon a month’s notice.

Angel said he’s been parking in that area “personally for 43 years.” The parking lot area is used for fuel delivery and garbage removal, too.

“We believe we have rights to that parking area,” Angel said. “Even if his deed were valid, which I’m not sure it is, it doesn’t include all that area he’s fenced. He’s fenced double the area that fence purports to give him.”

In any case, Angel said, the theater owner can’t erect a fence without first obtaining site plan approval from the town.

Walter agreed.

“The building department has given him until Wednesday to take down the fence. After that, they will take appropriate action,” the supervisor said.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.