The Vinland Commons plaza on Main Road in Aquebogue. File photo: Peter Blasl

The owner of the Aquebogue shopping plaza who once sought to rent space to 7-Eleven — touching off controversy in the community and a lawsuit — is now asking the the Zoning Board of Appeals for a determination that because the shopping center was built under prior zoning general retail is a vested use on the site.

The site plan for the Vinland Commons shopping center was approved in 1987 when the site was zoned Business Country-Rural, which allowed general retail uses, the applicant’s attorney, Patricia Stern, told the ZBA Thursday night during a public hearing. The approved site plan depicts all four buildings currently on the site arranged in a “campus-style” development, she said. The previous owner initially built two buildings and then in approximately 2003 obtained permission to build the final two buildings depicted on the site plan, according to Stern.

The town board changed the zoning to Rural Corridor in 2005. The new zoning is restrictive and does not allow general retail. The code exempts from that restriction Main Road between Washington and South Jamesport avenues. Vinland Commons, located west of Tuthills Lane, is not within the area exempted from the retail use restriction.

The town building department denied a use permit for a retail use in one of the existing buildings, citing the restrictions in the Rural Corridor zoning code. The property owner appealed to the ZBA.

“Retail use is the only practical use” for the site, Stern said.

“Vinland would not have purchased the property if it didn’t have certificates of occupancy for retail uses.”

When Vinland sought to lease a building for a 7-Eleven, the building department also denied the use permit application. Vinland brought a lawsuit instead of appealing to the ZBA and the court ruled in favor of the town because the property owner had not exhausted its administrative remedies before going to the court for relief, Stern said, “which is why we’re here tonight.”

But the new retail tenants won’t include a 7-Eleven, Stern said.

“7-Eleven is long gone,” she said. “They are no longer interested in this space. They weren’t willing to wait. There’s no 7-Eleven, so we’re not here asking for a convenience store,” Stern said.

Neighboring resident Marie LeBrun, who had opposed the proposed 7-Eleven, objected to the current application.

“We would like the RLC zoning to be maintained,” she said. There are very good reasons for the preservation of the rural corridor,” she said, urging that retail uses at the site will detract from the area’s rural character.

Greater Jamesport Civic Association president William Charles Van Helmond said his organization remains opposed to a convenience store at the Vinland Commons site. But, he added, “we want them to be successful at this property. We need to create a unity with our neighbors. We want to work with you.

It affects all of us,” Van Helmond said.

“We do want to maintain our rural character,” Van Helmond said. “The buildings here are rural-looking.”

Aquebogue resident Joan Zaniskey said she was “suspicious about the plans of the owner” because, she said, “many things have happened there where the actual letter of the law has not been followed.”

The hearing was adjourned to Aug. 22, the next regularly scheduled meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals.

In other action Thursday night, the Zoning Board granted impervious surface and lighting encroachment variances to J. Petrocelli Development Associates for the Howell House site at 420 East Main Street. Developer Joe Petrocelli is currently seeking a special permit for hotel and spa uses in the historic building he is renovating and restoring for use in conjunction with the Preston House Petrocelli restored and renovated for use as a restaurant, where he also built a five-story 20-room hotel attached to the north side of the house.

Also on Thursday the ZBA held a public hearing on the application of Baits and Barrels to build a “gun container” in which firearms sold or repaired at the shop could be fired for testing purposes.

The applicant is seeking an interpretation from the ZBA that the shop is a “river-related use” under the town zoning code and that the proposed gun container is an accessory use to the principal use.

The zoning requires uses to be river-related to comply with the designation of the West Main Street corridor by the State Department of Environmental Conservation as a recreational river corridor under the state Wild Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act.

The owner of the shop, Thomas Newman of Riverhead, said his establishment caters to hunters.

His attorney, Charles Cuddy, said “the DEC agrees” that Baits and Barrels meets the requirements of river-related retail uses.

Board member Leroy Barnes noted that the site plan approved by the DEC depicts the gun container.

West Main Street resident Ruth Pollack said she saw military-style weapons on display in the store, which Newman denied.

“The SAFE act has been in effect for years in New York,” he said. “A civilian cannot purchase an AR15, cannot purchase an assault weapon,” he said. Newman said his business, which holds multiple licenses from the ATF and the Suffolk County Sheriff, strictly adheres to the law.

Baits and Barrels also sells firearms to law enforcement officials, Newman said. Pollack “may be referring to firearms we sell to law enforcement,” he said.

The ZBA closed the hearing but left the record open for written comment until Aug. 19. The board will render a decision on the application at its Aug. 22 meeting, ZBA chairman Fred McLaughlin said.

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