A dispute between an incoming organic grocery store and the Village of Roslyn over the terms of a permit granted to the store in February has prompted a petition drive and an appeal at next Monday’s zoning appeals board meeting that, if unsuccessful, will likely lead to a court battle.
“We’re trying to start a business that will benefit our neighborhood and our community,” said Judy Racz, who owns the store, Full House Organic, with her husband, Gavin Racz. “But my own village is the one getting in the way. That’s what’s frustrating.”
The dispute concerns whether the special use permit for the store, approved by the Board of Trustees on Feb. 16, allows the store to sell prepared foods like rotisserie chickens, grilled vegetables and smoothies. Judy Racz said prepared foods are important to the store because the profit “margin on prepared foods is significantly higher than that for grocery items.”
The couple sought the special use permit from the village because they wanted to open their store at 10 Roosevelt Ave. in an area zoned for light retail, said Richard Belziti, the Roslyn Village superintendent of buildings.
The couple said they informed the village of their intention to sell prepared foods before getting the permit and waited for the approval before they purchased the property in March and began renovation.
At a meeting on Jan. 4 with the village Board of Zoning Appeals regarding a parking-related matter, at which Belziti was present, Gavin Racz described the store as “an organic market where we are going to sell 100 percent certified organic foods and some prepared foods,” according to minutes from the meeting.
At a meeting the following month with the Board of Trustees regarding the special use permit, however, Racz did not mention the prepared foods. He described the store as “a place for people to go to get organics.”
“lt’s all certified organic grocery items, basic necessities and maybe do a little local delivery in the area. lf you want some bread or butter, eggs right away, we can bring them to you,” he added, according to meeting minutes cited in a letter sent from Belziti to Gavin Racz.
Asked about the discrepancy between the statements made by Racz at the two meetings, Belziti said, “[The] zoning [board] doesn’t delegate preparation of food. It doesn’t matter what they spoke about at [the] zoning board.”
The store owners first found out they would not be allowed to have a kitchen on the property in a conversation with Belziti over the summer, Judy Racz said. As a result, they leased a property outside the village at 38 Glen Cove Road, where they planned to prepare foods and transport them to the grocery store for sale, Judy Racz said.
“We didn’t want to fight with the village,” she said. “We live here. We said, ‘Fine, if you don’t want a kitchen on the property we’ll lease this separate place.’”
On Sept. 15, Gavin received a letter from Belziti stating that the grocery store would not be allowed to sell prepared foods, even if they were made off site.
“The special use permit only allows for the sale of groceries which are uncooked and packaged in their natural state,” Belziti wrote.
“This was the use represented to this Building Department and to the Board of Trustees,” he said.
Village code states that a property owner in a zoning area of this kind may operate “low-traffic-generating specialty retail uses, such as home furnishings stores, art galleries, rug stores, antique stores and showrooms.”
The couple’s lawyer, Ian Poulos, contends that a “specialty retailer is simply a shop that focuses on a certain kind of market, and in this case it’s a specialty organic food store.”
“There is nothing in the code that says you can’t sell prepared food,” he added.
The couple is also represented by attorney David Schwartz.
On Monday at 8 p.m. the couple and their lawyers will meet with the village Zoning Board of Appeals to appeal the decision handed down in Belziti’s Sept. 15 letter. In advance of the meeting, they have started a petition to build community support. So far they have approximately 150 signatures, Gavin Racz said. They hope to have 200 by Monday.
If the decision is not overturned on Monday, the lawyers will bring a lawsuit against the village in New York State Supreme Court, they said.
“Who wouldn’t want an organic market in the village?” Judy Racz said. “It’s the most harmless small store you can open up.”
Attempts to reach Roslyn Village Mayor John Durkin were unavailing.