State land claim delays approval for Greenport restaurant

SUFFOLK TIMES FILE PHOTO | A restaurant is proposed for where White's Bait Shop now stands in Greenport.

The restaurant with outdoor dining planned for the White’s Bait Shop property on the Greenport waterfront could be derailed because of state objections.

Greenport Planning Board members told applicant Richard Webley at their work session Thursday that they couldn’t give site plan approval until property owner Cheryl Inzerillo obtains state approval.

It’s unclear how the state got involved in the application, but Planning Board members said they had learned only that day that the state objected to plans to put tables and chairs outside the building.

At issue are public rights of access to land that abuts the water. New York State policy is to prohibit interference with those rights.

Neighbor Bill Claudio of Claudio’s Restaurant was at Thursday’s work session and said he’d invested thousands of dollars over seven years to establish clear title to his property on the Greenport waterfront, including his rights of access to the water.
Ms. Inzerillo, also at the meeting, has not fought that battle. She said she had been approached by Merlon Wiggin, who handled the paperwork for the Claudio family, to join in the effort, but was later told by Mr. Wiggin that he had no time to deal with her part of the claim.

That’s not how Mr. Claudio remembered it. He said Ms. Inzerillo’s mother, Ruth White, owned the property at the time and refused to join forces with him.

Whatever the case, Ms. Inzerillo expressed a willingness to take necessary steps to clear her title with the state, but that could take years.

That left Ms. Inzerillo and Mr. Webley, to whom she planned to lease the property for his restaurant, in limbo.

After some wrangling with Mr. Webley’s attorney, Patricia Moore, board members said they might approve the project subject to the state’s clearance, but that could still leave the project up in the air.

“We can’t approve a site plan that includes a commercial use” of property over which the state claims rights, Planning Board chairwoman Lara McNeil said at the outset of the discussion.

“That position to me is an unreasonable position,” Ms. Moore said. “I think you’d be setting a very horrible precedent” for all waterfront property owners in Greenport, she said.

“We’re sworn to uphold the law and it would be a dereliction of duty” to ignore the state’s stance, said board member Eileen Rich.

Village attorney Joseph Prokop promised to review various property deeds and surveys provided by Ms. Moore and to render an advisory opinion to the board about the title and access issues. He also promised to provide Ms. Moore with copies of the state’s objection to use of the land for outdoor dining.

While saying he had no objection to Mr. Webley’s application to operate a restaurant, Mr. Claudio questioned the need for another eatery in a village that already has so many. “I have no opposition to anybody; this is a free society,” he said. But he also warned that he didn’t want his parking lot to be used by Mr. Webley’s customers.

The new would-be restaurateur said he didn’t believe his eatery would be a destination spot as Mr. Claudio’s restaurant is. Mr. Claudio scoffed at that, saying all of Greenport is now a destination and that he took some credit for building and sustaining its popularity.

[email protected]