Steely Hearing on Richmond Auto Body Expansion

Residential and commercial interests went toe to toe at a recent Amityville Village Board hearing and it wasn’t pretty. After more than an hour and a half of bitter discussion and debate, little was resolved and the only clear fact was that the Village Board of Trustees was in a place that damned them no matter which way they voted.

Steely Hearing on Richmond Auto Body Expansion

Village Board reserves decision on controversial application

Amityville Record
January 31, 2007
by Carolyn James

Residential and commercial interests went toe to toe at a recent Amityville Village Board hearing and it wasn’t pretty. After more than an hour and a half of bitter discussion and debate, little was resolved and the only clear fact was that the Village Board of Trustees was in a place that damned them no matter which way they voted.

An obviously distraught Trustee Ed Johnson who said, “This kind of thing is not Amityville,” expressed the extent of the board’s frustration. “I don’t understand what is happening here,” he said. “We never had this kind of dissention in Amityville before.”

“We’ve listened for more than an hour and I am closing this hearing,” said an emphatic Mayor Peter T. Imbert, whose patience had worn thin, even as more residents lined up to speak.

“I am sorry if we are inconveniencing you,” responded one resident who was cut off at the microphone as the meeting was closed.

The issue was whether the Village Board should permit JAMM Holding, d/b/a Richmond Auto Body to expand an existing building at 91 Merrick Road. The 7,500-square-foot addition would give the shop, which according to the owner, currently handles between 45 to 50 vehicles a week, more space to work. His attorney, Paul Margiotta, said there would be no significant increase in the use of the site, however.

“This is simply an effort to allow the employees inside, who are now working on top of each other in a building that is at maximum capacity, the space for a safer environment,” he said.

“A business owner will rightly attempt to improve their business so the presumption on the part of the board has to be that an increase of three times the initial size of the building the zoning board approved in 1998 will mean a significant increase in business expansion,” said Richard Handler who represents two residents living near the site, Angelika Hejna and Louis Maccarone.

The case came before the Village Board under its new code, which requires existing auto businesses along Merrick Road to receive approval from the Village Board when they make changes at their facilities. The new code also prohibits new auto business uses along that roadway.

Richmond Auto Body had received approval in August, 2005 from the Amityville Planning Board, but that decision was struck down by the courts after Maccarone and Hejna challenged it. At that time, Village law required that Richmond Auto Body apply to the Village Board for approval, but also required that the board deny any application that received any objection from any nearby neighbors.

At the time the suit was filed, the Village reviewed its 50-year-old code and amended it. It recognized the potential constitutional issue of the public-approval portion of the law, and removed it, maintaining, however, the Village Board’s authority to hear these types of cases.

Eventually the court ruled that the Planning Board had no legal jurisdiction in the matter, but did not address the constitutional issue, pointing out that the Village had already addressed it. That forced Richmond Auto Body to reapply for approval, this time to the Village Board.

Handler pointed out to the Board that since the application before the Planning Board had been vacated by the courts, the application before them should be considered new and, as such, was deficient in details and actually represented a significant change at the location, which required both zoning and planning board approvals.

“An expansion of this size is going to have a significant impact on the residents, and this plan should delineate what is going to go on inside that addition, and what impact there will be on the residents and the environment. This proposal before you does none of that,” Handler told the board.

“I cannot believe that they are going to put this kind of money into this building and are not going to expand their business,” said resident Joan Donneson. “It is ludicrous to think that they would do that. This is going to increase traffic in an area already congested, and I hope you are not going to make a rash judgment on this,” she told the board.

Residents also complained about the smell of paint emanating from the site and concerns about health and safety.

But both the owner and Margiotta maintained that the plan is to only provide a safer and more comfortable working environment, not increase the number of cars that go through the business on a weekly basis.

The applicant and residents provided testimony for and against the application, generating both applause in support and groans in opposition from each side of the aisle in the Village courtroom as the hearing continued. At times, the comments got personal.

“He (the owner of Richmond Auto Body) parks cars along the residential portion of his property, which is a violation of the law,” said Pearl Spellman of Riverleigh Place. “Why would we think he would obey the law in the future?”

“I don’t understand why you would invest money and build a beautiful house next to a commercial piece of property,” Trustee Johnson said to Maccarone. “You have come before this Village for variances on that property, to subdivide it and build another home and to install an outside entrance for your basement and we did what we could to accommodate you. Now you are complaining about what is going on in the commercial site next to the home you wanted to build.”

In addition, Johnson told Hejna that she had a covenant on her property to maintain it as a single family and questioned her as to whether she was complying with that law.

While Hejna did not respond to that comment, Handler said following the meeting that his client leases the entire home to a single family, is in full compliance with Village law and will be contacting the Village to show proof of that compliance.

“What I don’t understand,” said Handler, “is why the board would be receptive to an expansion of this kind when several months ago it took the position that it thought this type of an increase in automotive uses in the B-2 zone was inappropriate and outside of the vision they had for the Village. They passed a new ordinance addressing that so it is simply illogical for them to approve this application.”

All of that led to a flurry of cross talk between the residents and some anger over the level to which the discussion had reached.

“This has become too personal,” said one resident who shook her head as she left the meeting. “Too personal and embarrassing.”


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