New restrictions may shut down Iron Skillet flea market

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

This may well be the end of the Iron Skillet’s Sunday antique flea markets on Love Lane.

Last week, Iron Skillet restaurant co-owner Bob Hartz received a decision from the Southold Zoning Board of Appeals that granted him and co-owner Mary Ann Price the right to continue their warm weather fair, but with restrictions they feel are so onerous they might not be able to hold the flea markets.

Instead of every weekend, the decision requires they hold the sales no more than one day per month, and on a Saturday instead of a Sunday. Mr. Hartz said this week that antique vendors usually procure their goods on Saturdays and reserve Sundays to participate in fairs.

“Sunday is the lynch-pin day,” Mr. Hartz said. “I was expecting vendors this Sunday, and I had to cancel the whole thing.”

“It’s like the Monty Python skit where they’re in a cheese shop and everything is cheap, but they’re out of all the cheese,” he said of the decision.

The Zoning Board decision states that “this board expresses an intent to preserve the relative tranquility typical of a residential neighborhood during Sundays” by requiring that the sales be held on Saturdays.

Mr. Hartz and Ms. Price have been holding flea markets on Sundays during the warm weather months for nine years, since before they opened their small restaurant at the site in 2005. The first year, they went to the Zoning Board looking for a special exception use permit for the flea market. While they were given permission to run the sales for one year, they never reapplied and the market was never questioned by the town until last fall, when the town’s code enforcement officer, following up on anonymous complaints, ordered them to stop the sales until they received the permit.

The Iron Skillet is zoned for business, but flea markets are not listed among the uses allowed in the town code and business owners must receive special exemption permits to hold them.

The Zoning Board decision also requires that the restaurant not be open during the flea market. Previously, Mr. Hartz and Ms. Price hadn’t provided sit-down service during the flea market, but had cooked take-out food, primarily for the vendors.

“I can live with that,” Mr. Hartz said. “I don’t open the restaurant until 4:30 in the afternoon anyway.”

The decision also limits them to 10 vendors per day. They had asked to be allowed to have 28 vendors on the site, though at the height of the event’s popularity there were less than 20 vendors there each day.

At two public hearings on the application held earlier this year, other business owners on Love Lane expressed support for the sales, while some neighbors complained about the pedestrian traffic and the noise of vendors setting up at the weekly sales.
Neither the neighbors nor vendors who were contacted for this story returned calls for comment.

Mr. Hartz, a bass player who had been a musician on cruise ships before settling in Mattituck to run the restaurant, said the decision reminded him of the cruise ship company’s insistence that musicians could only use the swimming pools on board when the ship was docked, which just happened to be when the swimming pools were emptied and refilled.

“We basically got nothing from it,” he said of the decision.

The Zoning Board approval is also conditional on the submission of a site plan application to the Planning Board and is limited to one year from the date of signing.

“The real kick in the keister is that it would have cost us $400 to start the [site plan application] process, but the new fee is $1,200,” he said. “They frankly don’t want us to do it. It discourages people.”

Mr. Hartz said he’s looking into an appeal and is considering suing the Zoning Board.

[email protected]