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ZBA Reluctant to Grant Nina's Pizza Request

Full liquor license, live music and additional counter seating may waiver into tavern territory, says Board.

The Northport Zoning Board had a hard time swallowing requests from for a full liquor license and outdoor music at a public hearing on Wednesday night, citing concerns that the restaurant may waver into tavern territory.

In a packed Village Hall, ZBA Chair Andrew Cangemi said he feels that Nina's Pizza owner Artie Berke is "nibbling away at the code" for the only neighborhood business district in the area by asking for a full liquor license, a live music permit, and to be designated unconditionally as a restaurant.

"The neighborhood is a very small contained district over there. If we grant this application to Artie, I would find it very difficult to understand how that grant wouldn't be used against us in the future, and that is the problem..if this use starts to expand," said Cangemi.

"What you're asking us to do may be something that should be addressed by the village board, which is basically to amend the code, allowing a use that's not allowed right now. It means you have a significant burden to overcome, legally, to...give us the evidence to change within the zoning."

When the ZBA made the decision four years ago to allow Nina's to expand seating and serve beer and wine, they wrote that Nina's "should never be permitted to morph into a bar or a tavern or a place to consumer alcohol as opposed to a place to eat and have beverages with a meal." Concerns now focus on whether the pizzeria would waiver into bar territory.

When Berke added that he was requesting an additional eight seats for the counter area, which currently has four stools, members of the public in opposition cried out saying, "It's a bar!"

Berke relented, saying he wasn't adamant about the additional seating, and maintained that Nina's has no intention of becoming a bar and wishes to remain a family restaurant. His requests are simply a matter of raising the bottom line, he said, citing increasing competition from surrounding restaurants and the stresses of a faltering economy, to which Board Member Jaclyn Ingham took issue.

"If you're coming here on the basis of it being a hardship, then shouldn't you be presenting evidence from a qualified person, like an accountant, to present your case?" she asked. 

Berke responded that he does his books himself and offered to bring in records at a later date, saying that business "pays the bills," but he pretty much cuts even at the end of the year.

"I just feel that it's something necessary for us to be there in another 10 years," he said, adding that boisterous heavy drinking crowds have other options in Northport and the operating hours of Nina's, which he does not intend to change, are not conducive with a late-night bar crowd. "My wife would kill me. She yells at me when it's loud downstairs as it is," he laughed.

Berke said he's been a good neighbor to the surrounding residences and has never had trouble with the police at Nina's. Many spoke in support of Berke during the public comment portion of the hearing.

Rebecca Varese, who grew up in East Northport, said, "Artie does so much for Northport...If this is going to help him keep doing the good things he's already doing, I'm all for it."

James Greene, who said he lives "two stones throws away from Nina's" said that Nina's is a good neighbor and urged the board to give Berke what he wants. "Artie is the first person who's made the location a success," he said.

ZBA Chair Cangemi reiterated his concerns. "There might be other store fronts that open up that might want to do the same thing [in the neighborhood business district] since we allowed Artie to do it," he said. "We cannot make a variance for one specific business or business owner."

Those in opposition of Berke's requests cited concerns over increased usage.

Diane Lazolla, of 461 Main Street, submitted pictures of what she said was garbage out on a Sunday and delivery trucks blocking her driveway. "Live music, liquor license, 12 stools? It really does sound like a bar," she said, adding that she is concerned that unresolved issues will be further compromised.

Others in opposition called the requests a "slippery slope" and said that increased usage may devalue their properties and cause increased traffic and refuse. Berke agreed to address the complaints from his neighbors currently at issue and argued that his requests are simply to offer more options to his customers.

The Board has not yet made a decision on the requests. Patch will continue to follow this story and report the results once a decision has been made.

FYI June 29, 2012 at 09:31 PM
Unfortunately, Northport is definitely not the friendliest place for trying to improve an existing business or build a new one. The village appears to always look for reasons to deny rather than support new applications. Does anyone know is Rob Haddow doing with his sandwich shop proposition? The way that Artie has conducted his business since he opened should be very strongly considered. Nina's has been a vast improvement over what was there previously, both esthetically and economically. We should first be supporting Artie's efforts and simultaneously work on the issues of concern.
John June 29, 2012 at 09:38 PM
Mr Cangemi has a point and is correct regarding the need to bring this before the Village Board of Trustees before bringing it to Zoning. I was there for the whole night and listened to each Zoning request before the last one, Nina's Pizza, was heard. I felt the Board was very receptive to the request and did an admirable job hearing everyone who wished to be heard. I don't think Artie Berke's request is unreasonable, and I don't think the Zoning Board was unreasonable to ask for further evidence and guidance from the Village Board. I believe I counted 4 people speak against Artie's request, and approximately 18 people speak in support of Artie's request. It was clear that of the 69 people in the room that night an overwhelming majority were there in support of Artie Berke. This is not over, don't write off the Zoning Board. They were most impressive at the hearing and I am certain will give Mr Berke every consideration possible in researching their decision. Well done Artie, and well done Zoning Board members.
Rich June 30, 2012 at 12:18 AM
Melissa, Nobody likes a tattletale.
Melissa James June 30, 2012 at 12:25 AM
Do things the right way and there's nothing to "tattle" about
Rich June 30, 2012 at 03:40 AM
Lighten up Melissa. I was only joking. I thought it would be obvious by my using the word "tattletale" like I was in elementary school.
liberal June 30, 2012 at 10:46 AM
agree
Lincoln66 June 30, 2012 at 03:06 PM
Ever see Huntington (Main Street) on a Saturday Night? Packed! Shopping, Restaurants, Bars, Entertainment. Buzzing. Northport? zzzzzzz. Oh my goodness if one business owner becomes more successful - the zoning board will have to let other businesses become successful. Stop with all the bureaucracy. The board and the town should be bending backwards to help small business. Let the market decide if it's a good idea. Get out of the way
Old Fisherman June 30, 2012 at 04:41 PM
Presently it is dangerous to leave Norwood Avenue making a left turn because of the monster SUV's parking all the way to the corner restricting visibility of the traffic approaching Norwood from Laurel Road. I say OK, allow the license but no expansion whatsoever. Additional parking will just overload that corner.
Artie June 30, 2012 at 08:05 PM
I would like to thank everybody for there support, it really makes me feel like part of the community. Thank you again from the Berke Family. P.S. I look fat in that Picture I am going to have to be allot stricter on my diet.

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