An aerial photo shows firefighters in Fire Island Pines spraying...

An aerial photo shows firefighters in Fire Island Pines spraying water from several lines Tuesday morning onto a smoldering fire that engulfed several buildings. Mutual-aid response from the main island was brought in shortly after the fire started on Monday night. (Nov. 15, 2011) Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

Owners of the LaFountaine Building, a popular commercial complex in Fire Island Pines that was destroyed in a November fire, can rebuild a similar structure on the site, Brookhaven's Board of Zoning Appeals has ruled.

The decision, which upset the head of one of the town's largest civic groups, is a key step in the rebuilding of Fire Island Pines. The building and the adjacent Pavilion, a legendary gay club that was also lost in the blaze, constituted the heart of the Fire Island Pines commercial district and is considered vital to the community's summer tourism.

Pavilion owners have said they also plan to rebuild, but attempts to reach them were unsuccessful.

LaFountaine's owner, Nicole LaFountaine, needed a variance from the zoning board for the proposed building, which like its predecessor would take up more than 90 percent of its 6,014-square-foot lot. Zoning in the area -- established after the LaFountaine was built in 1980 -- allows only for 50 percent.

The rebuilding proposal was the subject of an emotional hearing on Jan. 11 in which most speakers supported LaFountaine's plan. And the zoning board quietly ruled on Jan. 25 that LaFountaine's proposal was "within the nature and character of the commercial properties in the Pines community" and that "feasible alternatives do not exist" for the property's owner.

LaFountaine can now seek building permits for the project, said Timothy Shea, the complex's Hauppauge-based attorney. He declined to speculate if the complex could be rebuilt by Memorial Day, as Nicole LaFountaine has said.

"No corks are uncorked yet," said Shea, adding the zoning board's decision was "justified."

The LaFountaine Building's seven tenants all have agreed to move into the new complex if it is ready by summer, LaFountaine has said. The new building, like the old one, would be two stories, and about 5,800 square feet, slightly less than the old structure, she has said.

MaryAnn Johnston, president of the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization and one of a handful of residents to oppose the rebuild, criticized the zoning board's decision, which she said "advances commercial interests" rather than protects Fire Island from overdevelopment.

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