Court rules village correct in Bonefish Grill zoning decision


Nearly three years after a Nassau County Supreme Court judge ruled that the Village of Rockville Centre could not limit the business hours of the Bonefish Grill, which lacked off-street parking spaces, the State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division has reversed the decision.

In 2013, owners of the property at 340 Sunrise Highway sought to build a 5,400-foot restaurant, which is now the Bonefish Grill. The proposed size of the structure required the builder to have 54 off-street parking spaces.

While applying for a building permit, the builder, in an effort to remedy the lack of parking, proposed to merge the property with the adjoining one, an HSBC bank, which it also owned. The owner of the properties anticipated that merging the two would allow it to use an exception to the zoning code’s off-street parking requirement for “interior restaurants that abut municipal parking fields,” as the adjoining property was adjacent to a municipal parking lot.

The village’s building department offered a permit at the time, but discovered shortly after the restaurant was built that the two properties were never merged and advised the Bonefish Grill to apply for a parking variance.

On May 30, 2014, the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals granted the variance, but imposed several conditions, including that the restaurant’s operating hours be restricted to 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. from Monday to Friday — to coincide with the hours of access to the 40 off-street parking spaces — and that valet parking be mandatory, according to court documents.

Calling the village’s decision to restrict the restaurant’s hours “arbitrary and unreasonable,” Justice Steven Jaeger ruled in favor of Bonefish in the Article 78 proceeding that it filed against the village that July, the Herald previously reported. Jaeger also ruled that the village could not force Bonefish to have valet parking during its business hours.

But last week, in a decision dated Sept. 27, that decision was reversed.

“Here, the ZBA’s conditions … were proper,” court documents stated, “because the conditions related directly to the use of the land and were intended to protect the neighboring commercial properties from the potential adverse effects of the petitioner’s operation, such as the anticipated increase in traffic congestion and parking problems.”

Parking in Rockville Centre’s downtown area has been a challenge, according to village spokeswoman Julie Scully, and “continues to be a great concern of this administration,” she told the Herald.

She added that the village has sought out-of-the-box solutions, including redesigning two parking lots to provide additional spots and offering free parking after 6 p.m.

For now, though, the Bonefish Grill, which has remained closed for lunch on weekdays and has offered valet parking during litigation, will not further congest the village’s lots during those afternoons. “The village was always confident in its position, and we are glad the Court affirmed that our Building Department acted properly,” Mayor Francis X. Murray said in a statement. “It's unfortunate the matter had to be litigated, but we hope we can move forward and work with Bonefish, as we do with all businesses in our Village, to be successful and prosper."

Michael Zapson, an attorney for Bonefish Grill, did not wish to comment on the matter at this time.