By Jano Tantongco
As the La Misión Church and food pantry at the site formerly occupied by the historic Platt’s Tavern gears up for operations next week, the town issued summonses Tuesday to the property owner for unapproved signage.
Huntington spokesman A.J. Carter said public safety inspectors went to the property and issued a summons for the placement of signs without a permit.
Carter added that the site will also need a permit for a clothing bin on the property. Further, the owner, Dominic Mavellia, will need to secure site plan approval from the planning board, as well as a parking variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals to allow parking on site.
Carter said that while parking was once permitted when the site maintained a nonconforming use designation for the gas station previously there, onsite parking was allowed. But after reverting to residential zoning, a variance will now be needed.
“So now, they have to get approvals for everything.” Carter said.
The Huntington Town Board did not vote on a proposed zone change for the property in November 2016, effectively killing Mavellia’s plans for an 8,000-square-foot urgent care facility at the location.
Critics of the plan said the proposal did not fit the character of the neighborhood, which is located in a historic district.
Among the critics was Paul Warburgh, president of Old Huntington Green, who said calls have been pouring into town hall regarding the food pantry’s design, which features a bright red and yellow color scheme and signage in English and Spanish.
Neighbors have taken to social media, largely denouncing the project as a vengeful affront to the town for putting a stop to Mavellia’s previous project, with some calling the design an “eyesore.”
“People have been calling town hall like there was no tomorrow when the building was painted and with the sign on top,” Warburgh said.
Warburgh said that he supports permitted uses, including that of a church, but believes that the site is a food pantry with a church as an adjunct, and not the other way around. He hopes the project will go through the standard channels of town approval.
“That gives the public the opportunity to provide input, which a lot of the people that I’ve talked to want to have something to say,” Warburgh said.
Mavellia countered by saying that the colors of the building simply reflect the colors of La Misión.
“It’s not spiteful, it’s not vindictive. These are the colors of the church’s logo. We painted the building their colors,” Mavellia said. “And yes, we wanted to stand out because we wanted the poor and the needy and the hungry to come to our building.”
Further, he said that the site was formerly the home of the charity The Spirit of Huntington from 2010 to 2015. Mavellia said he allowed the charity to operate rent-free, adding that signage back then was not an issue.
“Nobody said anything from the town. In fact, we had a few events there where town officials showed up to the events,” Mavellia said. “I find it quite hypocritical.”
Regarding the summons, Mavellia asserted the site is a church with temporary banners, part of what he will argue at the hearing in June.
“We are in the rights of what we’re doing. We’ll be arguing the point to the court,” Mavellia said.
He added that the food pantry plans to open its doors on Tuesday, from 12-1 p.m.
Asked what the town would do if operations begin without town approval, A.J. Carter said the town could not comment on “things that haven’t happened yet.”