A public hearing on the site plan application of Riverhead Ciderhouse had to be postponed by the Riverhead Planning Board last night because the applicant failed to provide affidavits that notice of the hearing had been posted on the site and mailed to nearby property owners, as required by town code.
Business owner John King, who was in the Town Hall meeting room for the hearing, said he had complied with the code, but didn’t bring “the receipts” because he didn’t realize that was necessary.
Absent the documents, Planning Board attorney Eileen Powers said the board lacked jurisdiction to hold the hearing.
The public hearing on the site plan application will be rescheduled, likely to March 3. The applicant will have to re-post the notices and mail new notices to neighboring property owners with the new date and time, Planner Matt Charters said. The Planning Board will first need to formally reschedule the hearing and authorize publication of a new legal notice by resolution, which can be adopted at its next meeting on Feb. 16, he said.
A couple dozen residents interested in the application were in the audience last night and they vocalized their dismay at the postponement.
“Oh great. So we came here for nothing?” one man called out from his seat, as others grumbled audibly.
“It’s a surprise to us as well,” Charters told the audience.
“We apologize. We did not know,” Planning Board Chairperson Joann Waski told the audience. “I literally just found this out. Our board just found this out.”
A few residents commented on the application during the open comment period of the meeting, though Powers reminded them their comments would not be part of the official record of the hearing.
Linda Nemeth of Calverton said the ciderhouse hasn’t complied with the conditions of its initial approvals. And, she added, the town has already permitted expansions of what she said was a non-permitted use to begin with.
The site, which includes a 108,000-square-foot building that was originally a potato chip factory in the 1950s and 1960s, was occupied by Blackman Plumbing as a warehouse, pursuant to a use variance granted by the Zoning Board of Appeals in 2000.
In May 2012, the town building department granted King a use permit for agricultural processing and warehouse, a use upheld by the ZBA after a neighbor challenged the building department’s decision.
King sought and obtained permission from the Planning Board for the addition of a hard cider production facility and the accessory use of a tasting room at the site in 2015. The approved site plan included an apple orchard.
The Planning Board in 2017 approved an amended site plan to legalize certain “as-built” changes on the site, including the addition of a “grab and go” snack bar and two pizza ovens inside and a 3,186-square-foot patio area with wall-mounted speakers and additional outdoor parking. The board at that time rejected the outdoor speakers, citing a covenant required by the 2015 approval prohibiting outdoor music.
King’s current application is for approval of an already-built 5,150-square-foot expansion of its existing tasting room and a 1,294-square-foot expansion of its existing 3,186-square-foot outdoor patio area.
Even with the tasting room and patio expansions, agricultural warehousing and storage still occupy most of the 108,000-square-foot building, according to the applicant’s site plan filed with the planning department.
Riverhead Ciderhouse is a popular, thriving year-round business, which draws patrons from around the region. But from the start, the Ciderhouse has not been popular among nearby residents, who turned out to oppose the plan at each juncture.
Nemeth said the ciderhouse contributes traffic to an already-dangerous intersection at Sound and Osborn avenues.
Toqui Terchun, president of the Greater Calverton Civic Association, said the traffic congestion in the area, to which the Ciderhouse contributes, she said, makes it difficult for local residents to “get out of their streets” onto Sound Avenue.
Terchun said King invited members of her civic group to the site on a Saturday morning in 2017 and told them he wanted to create “a friendly neighborhood pub where you can relax with your kids.” That’s not what he built there at all, she said. “He asks to be taken at his word and in my eyes has taken advantage of us,” Terchun said. He is “not looking to be a good neighbor.”
Mike Foley of Reeves Park asked the Planning Board to review its own past site plan approvals and conditions of those approvals, and then compare them with the applicant’s website and social media.
Foley read from covenants required by the Planning Board in 2015. “Number two. There shall be no special events such as weddings, festivals or fairs held on the subject property,” Foley read, “Yet the applicant on his website advertises weddings and catering events, in direct violation of a covenant that he signed in 2015,” he said.
He urged board members to review its past resolutions and compare them to the applicant’s operations.
“It’s a nice place, but it’s a bar now,” Foley said. “It’s not a ciderhouse. He has cider, but he has beer and he has wine and he has pizza.”
The Riverhead Ciderhouse website advertises the availability of cider, beer and wine, as well as five kinds of pizza, grilled sandwiches and snack foods. The website has a page titled “Catering” that pictures a separate room labeled “The Apple Shack,” described as “A large, fun, climate-controlled atmosphere with the farm feeling and access to the outdoor patio,” and “A great space for events such as wedding, bridal showers, large parties, corporate events, graduations, birthdays and any other celebratory events.”
Foley said the expanded tasting room offers a separate space for weddings and private parties and he questioned when the tasting room expansion was actually built. “We don’t know because it was inside an existing structure,” he said.
“We have to take a look at what’s happening on our historic Sound Avenue corridor. And this is the place where we tell this applicant, who is a repeated violator, and anyone else who contemplates building structures that don’t belong on our historic Sound Avenue corridor that enough is enough,” Foley said.
Cindy Clifford of Riverhead told the board if it approves the applicant’s site plan, “we’re going to have new vernacular in Riverhead and we’re going to call it the ciderhouse rule.”
The approval would set a precedent for any business or resident to do anything they want “and just disregard anything that’s required of them and then come in later and go, ‘Hey I’m sorry’ and you guys will go, ‘Okay.’ So I just want to put that out as a possible precedent that we probably want to avoid,” Clifford said.
The survival of local journalism depends on your support.
We are a small family-owned operation. You rely on us to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Just a few dollars can help us continue to bring this important service to our community.
Support RiverheadLOCAL today.