Arriving at the Roslyn Village Zoning Board of Appeals with over 200 petition signatures in hand, residents Gavin and Judy Racz pleaded with and castigated its members last Wednesday over the board’s perceived reluctance to grant approval for the sale of prepared foods at the couple’s planned grocery store, Full House Organic.
The zoning board expressed disapproval of their conduct at the meeting and said it will make a final decision on the matter in January.
“We just wanted to open a small grocery store with basic necessities and a small area for prepared food,” Judy Racz told the board. “Now it has become a spectacle. I don’t get why this had to happen.”
The zoning board has questioned whether the special-use permit for the store, approved by the Roslyn Village Board of Trustees on Feb. 16, allows the store to sell prepared foods like rotisserie chickens, grilled vegetables and smoothies.
The meeting followed the couple’s receipt of a letter from Roslyn Village superintendent of building, Richard Belziti, on Sept. 15, which stated that the special-use permit obtained by the couple “only allows for the sale of groceries which are uncooked and packaged in their natural state.”
The couple appealed Belziti’s interpretation, with Wednesday’s hearing an opportunity for them to make their case.
They argued that the permit allows them to prepare foods off site and sell them in the store.
The couple had originally sought a special-use permit for the store at 10 Roosevelt Ave., which is zoned for light retail, prior to purchasing the property with the intention of opening a food store.
After being informed by Belziti over the summer that they would not be able to prepare foods at the 10 Roosevelt Ave. location, they bought a second property at 38 Glen Cove Road, they said. They said they intended to prepare the food there and bring it to the grocery store for sale.
But in his letter on Sept. 15, Belziti said the store would not be allowed to sell prepared foods, even if they were made off site.
The couple and their legal representative, Ian Poulos, engaged in several sharp exchanges with zoning board members during the meeting before Gavin Racz walked out, saying he was offended by the board’s negative tone.
When Poulos asked board members to put themselves in the shoes of the couple, he was interrupted by zoning board member Bruce Young.
“The record is clear,” Young said. “There was no mention of prepared foods at the Board of Trustees meeting” at which Gavin and Judy Racz received the special-use permit.
Poulos acknowledged that the couple had not told the Board of Trustees it intended to sell prepared foods, but said they had told the Board of Zoning Appeals at a prior meeting about their intention during a discussion of a parking issue.
“The couple said herbs, eggs, and foods of that kind,” Young said.
“It’s in the minutes,” Gavin Racz yelled from the crowd.
“You can’t speak,” Young responded.
“You can’t make false statements,” Racz said.
Explaining why the couple had not mentioned prepared foods at the Board of Trustees meeting, Poulos said, “If you ask them and not a lawyer they say what they’ll sell off the top of their head, like anyone would.”
Young questioned Poulos’ explanation.
“I was led to believe [Gavin] Racz and his wife are sophisticated individuals,” he said. “They’re not people without a business model for how to do things. They didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.”
Judy Racz responded, saying said she didn’t believe having prepared foods would be a problem.
“I didn’t think rotisserie chicken, like they have at Whole Foods, would be problem,” she said. “I don’t know what kind of store you want me to be. I just wanted to do this for the village.”
John P. Gibbons, the village attorney, said Judy Racz was “coming here with a preconceived notion that the boards [of trustees and zoning appeals] aren’t favorable.”
“If you tell them what you want and it won’t hurt the village, they’ll give it to you,” Gibbons said.
As she sat down, Judy Racz said, “This is costing us a lot of money and you fighting it is costing us even more.”
Gavin Racz then said he and his wife had concerns about the approval process.
“The problem is we don’t trust this process,” he said.
“I still don’t feel like you’re encouraging this business. I took a dilapidated building and turned into something beautiful for the village, and I feel the board isn’t reciprocating that. I don’t have confidence that this will work out favorably,” he continued.
“I’m offended,” Young replied.
“I’m offended, you’re offended, let’s all get this market open,” Gavin Racz replied, using an obscenity.
“I’m upset, I’m leaving,” he added.
With that, he departed the room and the board adjourned the hearing.
At the beginning of the meeting, the board said it would make a decision about the matter in January. It didn’t give any indication that the sudden adjournment of the hearing altered that timeline.
Standing with his clients outside Village Hall, Poulos was asked what he would do next.
“I don’t know,” he said. “We need to regroup before we decide where to go from here.”