File photo: Peter Blasl

Riverhead Ciderhouse is headed to another public hearing on its site plan, which has been amended to reflect “as-built” changes at the site that don’t conform to the site plan approved by the Riverhead Planning Board last year.

Planning department staff told board members the property owner made interior and exterior changes at the Sound Avenue site that require new approvals — and a new public hearing on a revised site plan.

The changes in question, according to department staff are: a reconfigured “grab and go” snack bar and the addition of two pizza ovens inside; the addition of a 3,186-square-foot outdoor patio area, adjacent masonry block wall and 56 parking spaces outside, as well as landscaping changes and two wall-mounted speakers for outdoor music.

Lawyers for the Ciderhouse, Bryan Lewis and Fred Johs, met with the board today and argued that the changes made by the property owner are “not material” and, as such, do not require a new public hearing.

Planning department staff disagreed, but board members largely came down on the side of the property owner.

Building inspector Brad Hammond told the planning board the Suffolk County Health Department now considers the facility a restaurant because of the “as-built” interior improvements, which include two pizza ovens. The health department informed the town that the owner is required to obtain a food permit and also meet health department requirements for wastewater disposal, Hammond said.

Riverhead Ciderhouse attorney Lewis disputed Hammond’s account, citing different definitions of “restaurant” in the town code and the county health code.

At issue is how much food preparation is done on-site by Ciderhouse staff, Lewis said.

The Ciderhouse prepares nothing on site, owner John King said. He owns JKings Food Services, which has a $25 million USDA-monitored food preparation facility in Bay Shore.

“The food we serve there is made at our USDA-approved facility in Bay Shore,” King said. “We produce for Stop and Shop, Trader Joe’s, Costco and others — chef style meals. The Ciderhouse is another customer,” he said.

“As long as you say it’s OK they said they will approve it,” Lewis said.

Only the outdoor site plan changes require another public hearing, planning board members decided.

The potential for an outdoor area for gathering and outdoor entertainment sparked controversy among neighbors and civic organizations, many of whom objected to the cidery use being approved in the first place. They objected to King’s proposal for a hard cider production facility and tasting room in a portion of his 108,000-square-foot Grapes and Greens warehouse on Sound Avenue.

King in 2012 bought the former Blackman Plumbing Supply warehouse on Sound and Osborn avenues and said planned to use it only as a storage and agricultural processing facility.

King’s proposed use of the 7.4 acre property, located in the Agricultural Protection zoning use district, sparked controversy from the beginning. The zoning code limits uses to agricultural uses. But in 2000, the Riverhead ZBA granted the former owner, Blackman Plumbing Supply, a use variance, allowing the warehouse use as well as “customary accessory uses” to the warehouse use.

In May 2012, the town building department issued a use permit to King for “agricultural processing and warehouse.” The building department in 2015 issued a letter stating that hard cider tasting and retail is accessory to food processing.

The Ciderhouse site plan approval prohibited live music, according to the planning department staff. It also did not authorize an outdoor area for guests to congregate. But the property owner built the 3,186-square-foot patio and a masonry wall. Recorded outdoor music is provided for entertainment.

King is planting an orchard, where he will grow some of the apples used to produce hard cider sold at the site.

He compared his operation to other farm operations and wineries in the area, though Hammond told him the Ciderhouse was not approved as a farm cidery under the agriculture and markets law, which applies to farmers.

“I’m a farmer,” King shot back. “When am I going to get credit for being a farmer?” He argued that he is being held to a “higher standard” than other farmers.

“My own opinion is I think the site looks great,” planning board chairman Stan Carey told King today. “I have no problem with the improvements. I don’t have an issue with it. We should go forward with the public hearing,” he said.

The Riverhead Ciderhouse revised site plan, showing exterior changes, will be the subject of public hearing before the planning board on Sept. 7.

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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.