Flea market needs ZBA OK

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Iron Skillet co-owner Bob Hartz on the porch of the restaurant.

The Iron Skillet on Love Lane in Mattituck has been holding weekly antique sales for the past nine summers, but last fall, after an anonymous complaint, they received a letter from the town code enforcement officer saying they had to stop.

The restaurant, owned by Mary Ann Price and Bob Hartz, opened in 2005. Before Mr. Hartz and Ms. Price began serving up home-cooked meals on weekends, their nearly 3/4-acre front yard was just a patch of lawn.

They decided in 2001 to open up the lawn to antique vendors on Sundays. Business at the flea market was modest for the first three or four years, said Mr. Hartz, but began booming four years ago.

Last fall, he said, was the most successful season yet. Just before the town ordered the event shut down, 19 vendors had participated in the sale one late September Sunday.

“The flea market brings 250 to 300 people to the block. From my perspective, I only see it as something good,” said Mr. Hartz.

He expects several Love Lane business owners to appear at a Southold Town Zoning Board of Appeals hearing Thursday morning to support his application for a ruling that would allow the sales to resume this summer.

“They’re all very surprised that someone is complaining about this,” said Mr. Hartz.

The hearing concerns whether to permit Mr. Hartz and Ms. Price to hold the flea market as a special exception use on their property, which is zoned for business. The town code does not specifically allow a flea market. Any use not listed as allowed for any particular zone is considered illegal.

“We did it for nine years without mishaps or accidents,” said Mr. Hartz. “If we were looking to do something specifically prohibited, we would need a variance, but we are zoned as a retail establishment. We’re allowed to do business in this fashion. If somebody made a complaint, we need to amend the certificate of occupancy to include the use, and the board may limit vendors or specify where people park.”

Mr. Hartz said that he and Ms. Price appeared before the ZBA when they first planned the sales nine years ago. He maintains that at the time, board members said the markets would be good for all businesses on Love Lane and they would review the proposal again if any issues arose. Until last fall, Mr. Hartz said, he hadn’t heard a word from the town about the markets.

Mr. Hartz appeared before the Southold Town Planning Board Monday night to make his case for legalizing the sales. Though the Planning Board is not reviewing the application, it will send advisory comments to the ZBA.

Planning Board members seemed supportive of the proposal.

The flea markets are “good local color and feel,” said chairman Martin Sidor.

Ms. Price said that she charges a $25 fee to vendors and is selective about who participates. Though the application before the ZBA seeks to allow up to 28 vendors at a time, she doubts there will ever be that many at once.

“It’s not really a flea market,” she said. “Nobody’s selling T-shirts and socks. It’s antiques, vintage clothing, jewelry, military memorabilia, old tools. We have some people who make homemade items once in a while, but you’re not going to see baby furniture, toys and games. I don’t want it to look like a garage sale.”

Mr. Hartz said that he had heard from one neighbor who was concerned that their application includes a request to run the flea market on Saturdays as well. He confirmed that was something requested in the application, but any Saturday market would be scaled down significantly from the number of vendors who participate on Sundays, he said.

“We’re asking for sky. We’ll be happy if we get the moon,” said Mr. Hartz.

[email protected]