Bob Castaldi outside the Suffolk Theater on Main Street last month. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The Suffolk Theater is pulling back on a plan to fence off a large area behind the theater, including parking district property on which the theater has an exclusive easement.

The theater will submit a revised site plan as soon as today, depicting a scaled-back proposal that it hopes the Riverhead Town Board will approve at a special meeting this week, according to Victor Prusinowski, a permit expeditor who said he is assisting the theater with the application. The revised plan will only include fencing around property owned by the theater, not the easement area, he said.

Theater owner Bob Castaldi needs to get the site plan approved as quickly as possibly, because he’s facing immediate eviction from the rented space the theater has been using as a green room. Castaldi rents the green room space in an adjoining building owned by the law firm of Esseks, Hefter, Angel, Di Talia & Pasca.

The law firm commenced the eviction proceeding after Castaldi began erecting a fence in May that blocked access to parking spaces behind the law office.

The Suffolk County Sheriff served a 72-hour eviction notice on him Thursday morning, Castaldi said that afternoon. He had until Sunday morning to quit the premises.

The theater owner said he needs to have a green room operational by next weekend in order to accommodate acts scheduled to perform on Friday and Saturday.

Castaldi had planned to fence off a 6,800-square-foot area behind the theater and the adjacent building to its west to use for outdoor events. The theater owns some of that land but some of it is owned by the town parking district, which granted the theater an exclusive easement.

The town board held a hearing Wednesday on the theater’s site plan application to allow the placement of a trailer for use as a green room and fencing the perimeter of the area.

A couple dozen supporters turned out for the hearing to ask the board to approve the site plan application. Among them was Prusinowski who as a councilman years ago fought to have the town acquire the long-shuttered movie theater and renovate it as a performing arts center.

“Every time I go into the theater, I’m so proud that we saved it,” Prusinowksi, growing emotional, told board members.

East End Arts executive director Patricia Snyder said the theater has had a huge economic impact on downtown Riverhead. Its 35,000 attendees each year have a $4 million impact, according to formulas published by Americans for the Arts.

Lisa Ross, an attorney at Esseks, Hefter and Angel, said the firm asserts a “proscriptive easement” on the parking area “where its attorneys and staff have been parking for more than 50 years.”

Employees at the firm objected to the eight-foot stockade fence Castaldi proposed to put up in the parking lot. They said it would create a dark walkway that won’t be visible from the lot and would pose a safety threat.

“If you didn’t evict them we wouldn’t be here,” Supervisor Sean Walter told Ross.
“This is a self-created hardship on the part of the law firm,” Walter said.

“I believe it’s a self-created hardship on the part of the theater,” Ross responded.

“We have two people with very thick skulls,” Walter said. “Both Mr. Angel and Mr. Castaldi put the board in this untenable situation and we don’t appreciate that,” he said. Walter asked Ross to agree to a 30-day adjournment to allow the town “some breathing room” to sort the matter out.

Ross said she was not authorized to agree to an adjournment. She noted the eviction paperwork had already been filed with the sheriff’s office and she had no way of knowing when the sheriff would begin the eviction. As it turned out, that took place the next morning.

“The board’s not letting the theater shut down,” Walter told Ross. “That’s not going to happen. “We will do what it takes to make sure there’s a green room,” the supervisor said as he closed the public hearing.

Castaldi said Thursday he was finalizing plans to purchase a trailer suitable for use as a green room and would vacate the existing green room in the adjoining building after this weekend’s show.

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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.