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Developer sues after Nesconset Dunkin' Donuts denied

Neighbors oppose a Dunkin' Donuts proposed at the

Neighbors oppose a Dunkin' Donuts proposed at the Browns Road and Route 347 intersection near Sprofera Park in Nesconset.  Credit: Howard Schnapp

A Smithtown developer will ask a judge to overturn a town decision that stymied his plans for a Dunkin’ Donuts store and an office building near a Nesconset park. 

A lawyer for Jaspreet S. Walia is set to petition Suffolk Supreme Court Judge George Nolan in Riverhead on Sept. 30 to void the town’s May declaration that a supermajority of the town council was needed to approve a zone change from single-family residential to wholesale industry for a 2.7-acre parcel at the Browns Road and Route 347 intersection near Sprofera Park. 

Jaspreet Walia, also known as Jesse Walia, owns several Dunkin' Donuts franchises. Through a limited liability company he proposed a $3.5 million project to build a 2,190-square-foot Dunkin’ Donuts and a 12,450-square-foot office building at the site. 

The application divided both residents and town council members. On one side were those such as one resident who said the proposal was too big for the neighborhood and would destroy the last vestiges of “country feel” on the Route 347 corridor; on the other, pro-business figures like Town Supervisor Edward Wehrheim said the town needed to increase its commercial tax base and that Walia had made numerous changes to his application to appease critics.

Smithtown’s Town Council voted 3-2 May 7 to approve the zoning change, but town officials hours later said the measure had failed because a neighborhood petition had triggered a state law requiring a 4-1 or 5-0 vote to pass the measure. 

The suit, known as an Article 78, focuses the town's interpretation of a state law regulating amendment of local zoning. That law lays out several conditions where a protest petition can trigger the supermajority requirement; in this case, the requirement was triggered because "more than 20 percent of the property owners within 100 feet of this property" signed the petition, Town Clerk Vincent Puleo wrote in a May 7 letter to Walia's lawyer. 

But the petition was “undated” and “unverifiable,” and the town’s method of calculation was unclear, the suit contended. “Out of 84 alleged signatures appearing on the Protest Petition,” the town appeared to be “retroactively imposing the supermajority requirement” on the basis of signatures of just four property owners, it continued. The filing names those four along with town officials as respondents.

Town officials did not comment last week, and the residents could not be reached or did not comment. Walia’s lawyer, Vincent Trimarco Sr., declined to comment because he said the town had not yet filed a response. 

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