J. Kings owner says plant project must get started soon — or else

05/25/2012 4:58 PM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The former Blackman Plumbing warehouse on Sound Avenue.

The owner of a Long Island-based wholesale food company looking to set up a processing plant in Baiting Hollow said Friday the project could fall apart rapidly if plans get held up into the summer.

J. Kings Food Service Professionals is looking to set up shop in the vacant Blackman Plumbing warehouse on Sound Avenue, where the company would process and store products from local farms and vineyards.

“If we can’t get on the June 14 ZBA meeting, I’ll probably have to give up the building,” owner John King told the News-Review. “I’ll miss a year.

“You don’t grow in December and January.”

Mr. King, whose company is in contract to buy the building, said he was “shocked” a state Supreme Court judge on Thursday granted a partial temporary restraining order against his project.

Mr. King said he was late to learn about the request, and that the judge ruled without ever hearing his side of the story.

Austin Warner, whose family built the Blackman building in the 1960s and who owns Warner Nursery next door, went to court to challenge the town’s issuing of a building permit to Mr. King, on the grounds that agricultural processing is not a permitted use in the Agricultural Protection Zone.

Mr. Warner went to court to prevent the plant from operating prior to going before the town Zoning Board of Appeals for a ruling on whether it is a permitted use in the APZ. Mr. Warner also sought the temporary injunction from the courts, preventing Mr. King from moving forward prior to the ZBA ruling

The injunction granted Thursday is pending that ZBA hearing, and says Mr. King is “temporarily enjoined from specifically gaining any vested property rights.”

Mr. Warner’s attorney, Stephen Angel, said in an interview that court rulings in the past have shown that “if you know that someone has a questionable permit and you allow them to do construction and spend money…You may lose the right to stop them from doing it.”

The temporary restraining order granted Thursday doesn’t prevent Mr. King from moving forward on the project, but he’ll have to at his own risk, Mr Angel said.

He added that the injunction is unusual, in that “it doesn’t stop someone from action, it stops the result of action.”

Mr. King called many of accusations in the request for an injunction “insane.”

For instance, he doesn’t plan to operate the Baiting Hollow plant 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, as the request asserts. If the plant gets up and running, it would begin as early as 5 a.m. and run until 4 p.m. or 5 p.m., and after that, there would be about three people cleaning, he said.

It also will not be a distribution center. Mr. King said he was a distribution center in Holtsville, and it would make no sense to have that type of plant in Baiting Hollow.

The Baiting Hollow facility is envisioned as an agricultural processing plant, that will store wine and cases of produce, Mr. King said. This is done in a plant in Bay Shore now, and he is seeking to move it out to Baiting Hollow to be closer to the farms.

In addition, Mr. King said, it’s not correct that he obtained the building permit on the same day he applied for it, as the town documents show and the News-Review has reported.

“I picked up the application on April 25, completed it and sent it back, got it notarized on May 4th and paid a $100 fee on May 15,” the same day he got the permit approval, he said.

He said he’s been working on the Baiting Hollow site for seven months and has had meetings at Cornell Cooperative Extension with farmers to show what he plans there.

In addition, Mr. King said, he has established a website called grapesandgreens.com which has a section that shows videos of what will be done at the facility under the heading “processing.”

This is the same video he showed farmers at Cornell, he said.

The unused portions of produce that would be cut at his facility would be collected in a dumpster and given to farmers to feed their animals, he said.

As for the claim that there will be additional trucks on the road because of the facility, Mr. King said he already has trucks delivering to businesses on the North Fork, and those same trucks will stop at farms after their initial deliveries and pick up the produce that will be brought to the Baiting Hollow plant.

He said he was surprised at the opposition to the plant.

“We didn’t have a clue until 2 p.m. on Tuesday,” he said. “I was going to closing on the building next week.”

“I’m a neighbor, I’ve got a house in Shelter Island,” he continued. “Why would I want to do something to hurt the community?”

He added that he also is involved in many charitable causes, and gives out out culinary scholarships to students at Suffolk Community College’s culinary school in Riverhead, and also donated a truck for use in this weekend’s Tall Ships festival in Greenport.

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