The Examiner

Armonk Nursery Hearing Delayed Amid Prohibited Merchandise Charge

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The North Castle Town Board delayed scheduling a public hearing and referring the latest Mariani Gardens proposal to the planning board until town officials can determine whether all of the nursery’s merchandise is allowed under current zoning.

Board members held off making a decision on the hearing regarding proposed zoning text amendments until April 24 after comments last week from a resident and advice from Town Attorney Roland Baroni cast doubt on whether the Bedford Road business was illegally selling certain items. The zoning amendments are needed to allow Mariani Gardens’ additional proposed uses.

Baroni said the applicant had been told six to eight months ago that it needed to adhere to current zoning before its representatives may return with a request to schedule the hearing.

“The right thing to do is to get a report from the building department as to what’s going on within that structure before you do anything,” Baroni told the town board.

The latest brouhaha erupted during the April 10 town board meeting when Armonk resident Neal Baumann criticized the latest revisions to Mariani Gardens that would see up to half of the facility’s square footage be converted into a wine bar and cafe. The cafe would be open daily from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., with an increase in seating capacity from 16 to 72 patrons.

Baumann was adamant that the business has been violating the zoning code by selling merchandise that should be prohibited in the Nursery Business (NB) district.

“Mariani Gardens has for an extended period of time been selling items currently prohibited by zoning codes,” Baumann said. “The applicant is now looking to change the zoning code to legalize what is already being sold.”

He charged that the business has been selling jewelry, hand and body soaps and lotions and women’s clothing and accessories, among other merchandise. It even has a women’s fitting room, Baumann stated.

The NB zone limits the nursery to selling gardening and landscaping-related products. It also has permission to operate the existing cafe, which closes with the business at 6 p.m.

In a April 3 letter, Mariani Gardens’ attorney P. Daniel Hollis also informed the town that the nursery would like to be able to host social functions, proposing parameters for events and parties with music. The applicant’s requests call for as many as 12 events a year with amplified music of up to 75 guests; up to 10 events a year with amplified music where there could be 75 to 125 guests; and no limit on the number of functions that could have up to 200 people if there is no amplified music.

Furthermore, the new plans ask for one parking space for every three guests. There would be valet parking.

Mariani Gardens has also asked that the sale of home furnishings and accessories and “luxury lifestyle accessories,” such as soaps, lotions, jewelry and women’s accessories be permitted.

The discussion featured several other comments from the public lambasting the plan, including from the attorney representing St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, which is located across the street from Mariani Gardens.

Town officials ended the public comments when the discussion was turning into an impromptu public hearing. Hollis testily called on the board to schedule the hearing on the zoning changes for May 8 and refer the application to the planning board, saying his client was entitled to have the town take the next step.

He also scoffed at the “hyperbolic comments” that were being used by opponents.

“When we talk about overall benefits to the community, when we have the public hearing on this, which I hope is on May 8, I think you should have it in a room bigger than this because there are far more people in support of this application than there are in opposition to it,” Hollis said. “Mariani Gardens is a jewel in this community.”

Originally, the nursery had proposed additional retail uses but was met with stern opposition. Then there was a revised proposal to have the facility used as a catering facility during after business hours but the number of events would be limited.


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