Winery owner Thomas DeChiaro, who owns The Winery at St. George in Mohegan Lake, drew a large and passionate crowd Tuesday night as he petitioned the Yorktown Town Board to allow him to use a slice of town parkland to create several parking spaces for his business.
DeChiaro’s plan would also pave the way for an eventual well-manicured town park that he said he would finance, which could be used for school and environmental groups as well.
“There’s a win for everybody here — for the town, for the park, for the wetlands, for the business,” he said.
Debate centered on whether the area in question could be rezoned as “transitional” — a zone distinction that indicates that part of the parcel has one use, like commercial, while another section has another.
Many town residents spoke in support of DeChiaro’s plan, cautioning the Yorktown Town Board to avoid the “paralysis of analysis” and let the winery owner do something positive for the property with his own money and time.
“There is no downside to this. You have Tom jump through all these hoops,” town resident Linda Zimbler said. “Why put this off? It just sounds very political to someone like me. Why are you stopping this man from spending his money to make our town better?”
Still, some said they disagreed with any encroachment on parkland, even if the parcel in question is inaccessible, dirty and poorly maintained.
Paul Moskowitz of the Open Space Advisory Commission said he believes the law is ambiguous about whether such a move would be allowed.
“I do not want to see Town of Yorktown parkland used as a parking lot for a private business,” he said. “I think it’s the wrong thing, and I think it will eventually be found to be illegal.”
But Yorktown Town Attorney Jeanette Koster said the plan DeChiaro has proposed is legal in her mind, given New York court precedent.
“I’m confident that a parking lot is an accessory use and an appropriate use for a park,” she said. “When park is made accessible [through it], a parking lot is exactly the type of use that is permissible.”
Yorktown Supervisor Michael Grace tabled the public hearing, citing the need for more information, and told the public a decision would likely be reached at the board’s June 5 meeting.
“The application is where it is at this point, and I’m glad that it has moved as quickly as it has,” he said.
The town board also told the crowd it had abandoned its plan to transfer site plan approval of large commercial projects from the Planning Board to the Town Board.
“We heard you loud and clear,” Grace said. “I think there’s a simpler solution to it, and that is in regards to certain developments that have a certain gravitas … mandate referral to the Town Board.”
The announcement was met with cheers and applause, and one man yelled out, “You did the right thing — congratulations!”