A proposal to restore the former Meson Ole property as a mixed-use development took a step forward Thursday night as the Greenport Village Planning Board agreed to review the application, despite board members spending a significant amount of time debating over whether the plan needed variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
The proposal got a boost from former Mayor Dave Kapell, who was at the meeting on another matter and got up to back the Meson Ole project, saying it was the type of project the Village Board envisioned during his tenure.
Builder James Olinkiewicz recently acquired the long-vacant former boarding house located on Third Street, which was built in 1845 as the Burr Hotel and was renamed the Sterlington Hotel in 1894. It was home to Meson Ole, a Mexican restaurant, beginning in 1980 until several years ago when it became vacant.
Mr. Olinkiewicz is planning to restore the three-story building and build two restaurants on the ground level and three apartments on both the second and third floors, totaling six apartments.
At the April 28 Planning Board work session and again at Thursday’s regular Planning Board meeting, board chairman Devin McMahon said there was no doubt that the housing above the retail use was a permitted use, but that there were questions about how it should be “classified.”
The village zoning code has a category called “multifamily dwelling” that allows up to six units per acre per lot, but also requires a 48,000-square-foot lot size, which the Meson Ole building doesn’t have.
Another section of the code allows accessory apartments above retail stores and businesses that existed as of July 1, 2002 under some conditions, including: apartments can’t be on the ground level, were not subject to site plan approval, need to be occupied year-round rather than seasonally, and must meet building and fire codes.
Mr. Olinkiewicz said the apartments fell under the “accessory apartments” section of the code and claimed the village has already approved similar projects.
Mr. McMahon wanted to send the issue to the ZBA to get an interpretation of the village code, which didn’t sit well with Mr. Olinkiewicz since he stabilized the building at the village’s request.
“[Now] I run into another brick wall,”Mr. Olinkiewicz said.
Mr. Kapell, who was mayor in 2002 when the accessory apartment section of the code was enacted, has come to his defense at Planning Board meetings and said a change to the code was made during a time when people were converting two-family houses into single-family homes and the village was concerned about losing housing stock.
Many of the village buildings were originally constructed so that business owners could live above their stores, Mr. Kapell said, adding he believed it made sense to allow apartments above stores.
“It’s a good way to provide housing,” the former mayor said, adding he owns a mixed-use building himself. “It’s a good way to bring people to live downtown, which is good for public safety and for vitality and it also increases revenue for the property owners so they can pay taxes and increased revenue in a commercial building raises its assessment.
“These are all issues that the board considered when we adopted that change in 2002 and I ask this board to respect it,” he continued. “You’re going to set a very dangerous precedent, in my mind, referring an issue of this consequence to the ZBA. If you have a question [about the zoning], pose it to the Village Board.”
Mr. Kapell said the first requirement the code makes for multifamily dwellings is that they have a minimum 48,000-square-foot lot.
“Not one lot in the business district meets that test,” he said. “It can’t possibly be applicable in the business district.”
Planning Board member Bradley Burns, who was on the Village Board with Mr. Kapell in 2002, said: “It’s inappropriate to send it to the ZBA.”
Planning Board member Peter Jauquet agreed.
“It’s clear in the 2002 amendment that apartments are allowed,” he said.
After Mr. Burns made a motion to accept the application as complete, it passed 4-0, which Mr. McMahon voted in support despite having some reservations. Planning Board member Pat Mundus was absent.
The project needs site plan approval and building permits before it can be completed. Mr. Olinkiewicz said he has started some of the work using the emergency repair permits the building’s previous owner had obtained, which were intended to correct safety issues.
Photos: (Top) A proposal for the former Meson Ole building includes two restaurants and six apartments. (Middle) Former Greenport Village Mayor Dave Kapell at Thursday’s Planning Board meeting. (Credit: Tim Gannon photos)