ZBA approves variances for Old Mill renovations in Mattituck

Southold’s Zoning Board of Appeals has granted conditional variance relief to the owner of the former Old Mill Inn restaurant site, who applied to expand and renovate the 200-year-old Mattituck building.

The property is owned by restaurateur Anthony Martignetti, who co-owns several New York City eateries with his brother. A notice of disapproval from the town’s building department last amended June 30, 2021 noted that the proposed plan significantly oversteps yard setback and maximum lot coverage requirements at the site, an 1821 former grist mill that had been operating as a waterside restaurant. 

“The benefits sought are not personal to the applicant; they are shared by the community by way of the preservation and restoration of a beloved, historic structure and restaurant. Due to the extent of the  pre-existing non-conformities, there is clearly no conceivable way to restore the Old Mill Inn without the [requested] relief,” the ZBA decision states. “While the setback relief may be mathematically substantial, it is not practically substantial since it will only allow what has been on the site for 200 years to remain. Absent relief, the structure will continue to deteriorate and will eventually and inevitably be lost.”

The proposed changes, which would decrease lot coverage from 73.7% to 69.1%, outline a 1,455 square-foot, single-floor restaurant space with a second floor dedicated to living or storage space. There would also be a 388 square-foot open porch and 922 square feet of open air decking. In a Dec. 2 public hearing, the applicant said restaurant occupancy would be reduced from more than 150 seats to 50, including the bar area, with an additional 35 seats and portable bathroom on the outdoor porch and decking. 

The applicant also discussed a “modest size, all electric kitchen” at the public hearing that wasn’t included in the provided plans, and indicated a desire to either maintain employee housing on the second floor or use it for personal housing or storage. 

The ZBA approval, which was granted last month, is subject to conditions — the proposed alterations must be approved by the town trustees and state Department of Environmental Conservation, and the county Department of Health Services must approve the installation of a waste-water treatment system suitable for the proposed restaurant. 

Additionally, the exterior porch must remain open and unheated and unconditioned without screening, windows or any other kind of enclosure other than the proposed roof. Decking must remain open to the sky and amplified music outside is not allowed. 

The town Planning Board offered support for the bid in October, noting that the “community cultural asset” was built before zoning regulations were adopted in Southold. 

“The Planning Board recognizes that in order to ‘renovate and retain’ these historic, non-conforming, pre-existing structures, substantive relief that supports the goals and objectives of the Cultural Resource Chapter of the Southold Town Comprehensive Plan is necessary,” a statement to the ZBA read.

The Planning Board did, however, note two concerns. The board emphasized the importance of protecting water quality in Mattituck Creek and said the town should confirm the function and type of the sanitary waste system, and make sure that stormwater controls are in place and proposed. 

The Planning Board also said the ZBA should “address parking of employees and customers within the Mill Road right of way, accessibility, function and adequate fire protection of the area if vehicles are parked in the roadway.”

There has been strong community support for the project, according to the ZBA decision, which emphasizes the former grist mill’s historical value. Several letters of support from neighbors and other community members were submitted prior to a Dec. 2 public hearing on the proposal.

“A farmer and area neighbor spoke about the importance of maintaining this structure for the community’s benefit; they also shared personal testimony about their ancestors who worked on the building and maintenance of the structure during the 19th century,” the decision states. 

Granting the variances would not impact neighboring properties, as the site is “somewhat remote from any of the nearby residential structures,” and the building is “an integral part of the character of the surrounding community that is beloved by the residents of Mattituck and the entire town,” according to the decision.

The ZBA also points out that it’s virtually impossible for the property owner to avoid variance relief, calling the site “perhaps the most constrained parcel in the Town of Southold.” 

The former Old Mill restaurant was developed as a grist mill by the Cox family in the early 19th century. In the early 20th century, the mill was converted to a restaurant and popularized during Prohibition, known for its “trap door” over Mattituck Creek allegedly used by “rum-runners.” 

Real estate records show that Mr. Martignetti’s company, North Fork Project LLC, purchased the parcel for $620,000 in April 2019.