Rejected Huntington auto body shop gets 2nd hearing

Local residents stand in front of an empty

Local residents stand in front of an empty historic district lot, which has been proposed for an auto shop. They oppose it. (Jan. 27, 2013) (Credit: Ed Betz)

A plan to build an auto body shop in a Huntington historic district has a second chance at approval after being shot down by the town board, thanks to a court decision.

To the delight of nearby neighbors, the town board last year rejected an application for a certificate of approval for the shop, but the lot owner sued. Now the court has ruled and thinks the board may have erred in denying the plan.

State Supreme Court Justice Ralph Gazzillo handed down his decision last month that said there is not a "scintilla of evidence in the record to support the denial of the application," adding the town board's decision -- based on information supplied to the court -- was "arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion."


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Gazzillo ordered another public hearing on the application and the town board has set one for Feb. 5.

"We will submit documents to the courts with the reasons of how we came to our decision," Town Supervisor Frank Petrone said. "We feel that station should not be open there."

Marie Gatto, whose 150-year-old home is across the street from the proposed shop, fears it would have an adverse impact.

"If this is built it will destroy our property values," she said. "This is very discouraging to think we have to go through this again."

Seamus Coyle, who owns the 13,900-square-foot lot at 114 Prime Ave. in the Mill Lane Historic District, has been attempting to build a two-story, three-bay auto body shop since 2004. He went through the required process to get his permits, including getting a variance from the zoning board of appeals to allow building an auto service shop, and approvals from the town planning board and historic preservation committee.

The final hurdle was getting a certificate of approval in a historic district from the town board.

About 50 nearby residents who opposed the plan lobbied town board members, arguing an auto body shop does not fit the neighborhood's character. They also pointed out that the area is a notorious flood zone and that the chemicals stored in an auto business could create environmental concerns.

The town board agreed and voted unanimously in February against the certificate of approval because the building is not "compatible with the historic residential character of the district."

Last week, Coyle said he did not want to discuss the case and would answer questions at next month's public hearing.

Residents call Coyle a "bad neighbor" who has ignored town codes and has used the lot over the years as a junkyard. Currently a single-family home sits on the property. A petition with 600 resident signatures will be submitted to the board.

Neighbor Jim Santa said he thinks the court's decision to send the case back to the board is out of touch with the needs of the community, which he points out has several service stations in the area. "I have no problem with him building a home on the lot but the last thing I want to hear is the changing of tires at 11 o'clock in the morning on Saturday, Monday."

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