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Zone Change Would Ease Chick-Fil-A Application; Remove A Law Town Officials Say Is Obsolete
By Tina Traster
Clarkstown is thinking about scrubbing an outdated zoning rule that not only inhibits where restaurants can be sited but is also a rule that seemingly has not been enforced. Eliminating the code would ease the approval process for the proposed Chick-Fil-A on Route 59 in Nanuet.
First stop for a change in the rule took place Wednesday at the Clarkstown Planning Board, which was asked for a recommendation.
The board deadlocked three-three to remove a restriction in the Town Code that bans restaurants (limited-menu or otherwise), drive-ins or food dispensing establishments in the RS (Regional Shopping) zone within 200 feet of any church, school, synagogue, or similar place of assembly.
According to the code, the 200-foot prohibition is measured from the nearest property line.
The RS shopping zones are mainly in the retail corridor along Route 59 in West Nyack and Nanuet and include shopping centers like Rockland Plaza, Rockland Center, and other strip centers.
Town officials argue it makes sense to “clean up” arcane provisions of the code, there was much disagreement as to its enforcement and its necessity.
“If it isn’t broken, why fix it,” said Board Chairman Gil Heim. “I don’t see a reason to change it.”
But board member Phillip DeGaetano argued that if there’s a chance to remove an impediment that encourages new business, why not do so.
It’s unclear why the town board has made this a priority now. However, the issue will be ripe when Chick-Fil-A, which is closely situated next to a church, aims to demolish the existing shopping center bounded by Route 59, College Avenue and West Nyack Road – the former location of Hobbytown USA and other retailers. The quick-service eatery known for its chicken sandwiches has submitted plans to the Town of Clarkstown to build a 5,625 square foot Chick-fil-A restaurant with two drive-thru lanes, and meal order/delivery canopies. The plans also include the construction of a second quick service restaurant on site covering an additional 1,000 square feet with a single drive-thru lane.
Situated directly across West Nyack Road and within 200 feet of the Chick-Fil-A site is St. Anthony’s Parish and School at 34 and 36 West Nyack Road. The proximity of St. Anthony’s to the Chick-Fil-A site would require the developer to seek a “use” variance from the Clarkstown Zoning Board, which seldom if ever grants use variances, according to town planner Joe Simoes.
The Planning Board can neither ignore nor waive the restriction in the code. As use variances are generally frowned upon by the Zoning Board, the only way to greenlight the Chick-Fil-A application is for the Town Board to re-write the Town Code and allow restaurants next to houses of worship and schools across the entire RS Zone to accommodate this single developer and its proposed project.
Planning Board Chairman Gil Heim posited that the provision was important and that he was reluctant to allow restaurants, especially those that may serve liquor, to be built next to schools and churches. Other members noted that the New York State Liquor Authority controlled liquor licenses, not the Town.
The ultimate decision to rewrite the code rests with the Town Board.