Home Goods Fight Spawns Legislation

Councilwoman Susan Berland and ZBA chairman Chris Modelewski are in disagreement over variances given to Home Goods for a proposed Melville site. The dispute spawned legislation which will be heard at town hall on Aug. 11.

Councilwoman Susan Berland and ZBA chairman Chris Modelewski are in disagreement over variances given to Home Goods for a proposed Melville site. The dispute spawned legislation which will be heard at town hall on Aug. 11.

A Huntington councilwoman alleges the town’s zoning board of appeals overstepped its authority when it approved variances for a proposed Home Goods store on Route 110 in Melville, and said new legislation is needed to prevent the same thing from happening again.

Councilwoman Susan Berland said in an interview that the board, chaired by Chris Modelewski, overreached when it awarded variances to Home Goods to build a new store at 881 Walt Whitman Road, behind Bertucci’s restaurant and adjacent to Bowl Mor Lanes.

Berland and leaders of the Civic Association of Sweet Hollow argue Home Goods should have gone to the town board for a zone change, and said the proposal does not meet muster for the use variance it was awarded. By giving the variances, the zoning board created a situation where the proposed use conflicts with covenants and restrictions that the town board placed on the property.

Berland’s proposal would require the zoning board to defer to the town board when “it becomes necessary to rescind, modify, vary or interpret a covenant or restriction imposed by the town board.” The applicant would be then directed to apply to the town board for that determination.

“The covenants and restrictions on that property were imposed by the town board, and the town board should have first jurisdiction on that,” she said. “It turns out there is some loophole that they took advantage of, and that allowed ZBA to say, ‘Well, we’ll do this what we want.’”

In a July 14 letter to the town board, Modelewski denied that the board’s decision was out of order, and said the board was clear with the applicant as to their powers and the fact that they needed to take subsequent steps to have the covenants listed.

“I do recall pointing out to the applicant’s counsel at the hearing that as a matter of law, the Zoning Board of Appeals could give no relief respecting the recorded covenants,” Modelewski said in the letter. “The applicant’s attorney understood this and did not argue the matter. The Zoning Board of Appeals has never, to my knowledge, acted in excess of its lawful jurisdiction; and for so long as I serve the people of Huntington as its chairman, it never will.”

Modelewski said that it’s been the board’s policy to defer to the town board when corollary jurisdiction exists, such as in the cases of coastal construction permits and buildings in a historic district.

The Home Goods case, Modelewski said, appears to be unique.

“This instance, on town board covenants, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one before,” he said

It’s also the board’s policy, he said, to defer to the town board in those cases and when they are specifically asked to wait. No such request was made in this case, he said; Berland, however, said that such a request was made by way of a March 31 planning board memo.

A hearing for the proposed amendments will be held at Huntington Town Hall, 100 Main St., at 2 p.m. Aug. 11.