The East Hampton Town Planning Board held a “wrap-up discussion” on June 28 about a stripped-down site plan application from Rita Cantina, the Mexican restaurant located in a residential neighborhood in Springs. In order to speed approval, the restaurant has removed several proposed points of contention, among them an outdoor patio with seating area, parking for catering trailers, grills, and lighting. Despite the changes, however, board members still set multiple conditions.
The restaurant now is suing the Zoning Board of Appeals for upholding the chief building inspector’s ruling that it is operating illegal catering businesses from a constrained parcel. Even should the appeal succeed, the Planning Department has requested that Rita Cantina submit a site plan — which would require planning board approval — for the catering operations.
That particular condition poses a problem, said James Vlahadamis, the restaurant’s lawyer.
“I have an obligation to state our objection,” he told board members. The condition, he said, could lead to further litigation that “we do not want.”
Nancy Marshall, a town attorney, disagreed. “This clause isn’t trying to override the court’s determination,” she said. “It’s just that should they grant you approval, it would just be orderly planning to this additional catering.”
“Arguably, ‘condition number six’ opens my clients up even if it’s lawful,” Mr. Vlahadamis responded. “Even taking Clambake and Food & Co out of it, arguably condition number six would preclude any catering from the premises.”
If the restaurant does prevail in Suffolk State Supreme Court, said Samuel Kramer, the board chairman, it was unlikely that they would need to return to the planning board for approval of the loading and unloading of catering trucks. “That’s what this is about,” he said. “If you’re going to be bringing trucks in and out of this facility, you’re going to have to come back to us, and we’re going to work out a site plan for the use of the local road network and curb cuts on the property, so that the planning impacts on the neighbors are kept in line. That’s what our job is.”
“But we had that. We had the loading and unloading area,” Mr. Vlahadamis protested.
“We wouldn’t [agree to] something that would allow for a use that currently is not allowed,” countered Ian Calder-Piedmonte, a board member. He said it would have been “weird” to have a conversation about adding a loading area for an unapproved use. Should the restaurant prevail in court, he said, it would then be “a reasonable ask” for Rita Cantina to discuss adding a loading and unloading area with the planning board, but not before.
Eric and Marc Miller, the brothers who own Rita Cantina, contend that the parking and trash issues at the restaurant stem from its popularity, rather than the catering uses. At a June 7 public hearing, the restaurant’s neighbors vociferously disagreed.
After saying that a drive-by had revealed items stored illegally, and a general mess, Ed Krug, a planning board member, repeated the message the board had given to Rita Cantina before. “It’s incumbent on you to smooth things over with the neighborhood,” he said.
Board members unanimously agreed to add the conditions to a potential approval.