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Appeals Court relaxes rules for off-street parking in business districts

The state Court of Appeals has made it easier for businesses to move into areas with limited off-street parking.

The decision, made Thursday and based on a lawsuit filed by a Manhasset business, will boost the vitality of downtown communities throughout the state by relaxing parking requirements, according to an attorney for the Town of North Hempstead.

Under the ruling, applicants will no longer have to satisfy more restrictive "use variances" and can apply the more relaxed "area variances," provided the zoning allows the type of business that wants to open.

"There are many local downtown communities on Long Island and throughout New York that were developed prior to the enactment of off-street parking restrictions," said Simone M. Freeman, outside counsel for the town and attorney with Amato Law Group of Garden City. "As a result, many businesses in these communities are unable to comply with restrictive off-street parking requirements."

The decision advised zoning boards to "evaluate requests for off-street parking variances by applying the standards for an area variance so long as the property is intended to be used for a purpose permitted in the zoning district."

A lawsuit was filed by Manhasset-based Colin Realty after the town's Board of Zoning and Appeals decided in 2011 to allow Manhasset Pizza to have a loading area and parking variances for a 45-seat restaurant on busy Plandome Road in the downtown business district.

The board treated the requested variances as area variances as opposed to use variances, meaning the restaurant would not have to have as many parking spaces as are usually required for a business of that size. And they would be allowed to refer customers to a nearby municipal lot.

Colin Realty, which owns several businesses adjacent to the proposed restaurant, argued that a use variance was required in converting the storefront property to a restaurant. "It's a very troubling ruling," said Robert M. Calica, a Garden City attorney who represented Colin Realty. "It's a terrible location to put a restaurant of that volume that provides zero off-street parking."

Bruce W. Migatz, a Garden City attorney who represented Manhasset Pizza and the property owner, Fradler Realty, said the decision is "a very significant case in land-use law" that clarifies parking issues in downtown areas. Migatz said the ruling allows the restaurant proposal to proceed.

The next step would be for the owner to apply for a building permit, he said.

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