Clarkstown Planning Board Says No To Removing Restrictive Covenant From Route 303 Restaurant Property

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Bella Gianna Owners Will Get Another Crack To Have Covenant Lifted At Clarkstown Town Board

By Tina Traster

The Rehoboth Church of God will begin looking for a new building to buy now that the Town of Clarkstown’s Planning board has stood fast on its recommendation to keep a restrictive covenant on the property, which only allows for restaurant use.

“We have waited a year and a half to buy this building,” said Samuel Varghese, the Church’s representative, who has said that only the removal of the covenant had stood in the way of a pending $1.3 million contract to buy the Bella Gianna restaurant site at 77 Route 303 North. “They have said no. We don’t have any recourse. We will begin to look for a new property because it’s not worth the fight.”

The Vasti family (FJV Realty LLC,) has been trying to sell the Bella Gianna restaurant site at 77 Route 303 North for nearly five years. A “restrictive covenant” that runs with the land limits the property’s use to a restaurant.

Ultimately it is up to the Town Board to decide whether the restrictive covenant should be lifted. On June 21st, the Planning Board voted unanimously to recommend the covenant remain in place. The applicant will next go to the town for a final decision, though the town board has typically deferred to the Planning Board’s recommendations, and had already bounced the issue back to the town Planning Board in March.

“We shouldn’t be changing the covenant,” said Planning Board Chairman Gil Heim. Although the Planning Board voted unanimously in favor of maintaining the restriction, it did not articulate a reason beyond the fact that the restrictive covenant has been attached to the property since 1990.

Curiously, the Planning Board in late May deferred voting on the issue, citing the absence of one board member at the time. However, the vote was taken even though the board once again was short one member. No explanation was offered for the discrepancy.

Originally, the parcel that the restaurant sits on — which is surrounded by a mostly residential neighborhood to the east of Route 303 — was zoned R-15. The property was re-zoned to CS (commercial shopping) to accommodate Romolo’s restaurant, but the restrictive covenant limited the owners from expanding the use of the property to those otherwise permitted in the CS zone including churches, schools, offices, animal hospitals, auto parts stores, appliance stores and many other retail uses.

Bella Gianna’s purchased the restaurant property from Romolo’s in 2007 for $1.4 million.

Neighbors had organized to oppose lifting the restrictive covenant.

“We had a positive decision tonight,” said Amber Chrispino, a neighbor who’d presented the Planning Board with 500 signatures opposing the lifting of the covenant. “Hopefully the town board will make the same recommendation.”

Bella Gianna owner Vinnie Vasti told the board he was not aware of the covenant when he purchased the restaurant.

“There’s an 88-year-old man who’s paying $12,000 a month for a property we can’t sell,” said Vasti, who is being represented by Lawrence Garvey, an attorney, and Chair of the County Republican party.

Meanwhile, many members of the Rehoboth Church of God filled the seats at the meeting once again, hoping for a different outcome.

Varghese said the church, which has been renting space in the Presbyterian Church on New Hempstead Road for five years, had put down a 10 percent deposit to purchase the property.

“It’s sad but there’s always another building,” he added.