More than six years after Tom DeChiaro bought , he can call his business 'official.'
The town agreed last week to issue him the temporary certificate of occupancy, which will allow him to operate the Winery for its intended purpose, a wine bar rather than for political events and fundraisers.
DeChiaro has been operating as a winery/eatery . Under a court order, he had been allowed to host "political fundraising" events at the old stone church and proceeds would go toward People For Honest Government, a political action committee he formed which makes endorsements and campaign contributions for local elections.
The temporary certificate of occupancy, which is good for 90 days but an extension can be granted if needed, allows DeChiaro to increase his days of operation from four days to seven days a week, increase the winery's capacity from 100 to 165, and receive an annual liquor license rather than renew day permits.
"We have met every code and that was the beauty of getting [the temporary certificate of occupancy] because we can now operate as an official business," construction manager said.
Sciarra and DeChiaro said in recent weeks they completed a 66-item checklist the town issued last year, including kitchen modifications and a wheelchair ramp. The list also called for installing sprinklers, which were found not to be required.
DeChiaro said he plans to expand the wine and grape industry in Yorktown and bring economic vitality to the area.
He bought the old stone church in the Mohegan Lake hamlet from the late Michael Palmietto for $500,000 in 2005. Palmietto had been previously trying to open it up as a restaurant, but was unsuccessful. DeChiaro has transformed the place to a hip and popular wine bar, which regularly hosts music performances.
Renovations for the current winery started in 2007 and have cost close to $785,000. DeChiaro has yet to transform the outside of the church so it matches the "ambiance" of the interior.
He plans to submit a revised plan to the town board based on a plan Palmietto had submitted but was not approved. It includes increasing the parking from 39 to about 60 spaces and swapping a town owned wetlands area for a parcel along Route 6. DeChiaro will also seek a zoning change – from residential to a commercial or transitional zone.
It is no secret the Winery has been at the center of controversies for a number of years. Since 2005, there have been code violations, a $30 million against the town of Yorktown, and a lengthy approval process.
The town board voted 4-0 to grant the temporary certificate of occupancy last week. Councilman Nick Bianco, who was one of the targets of the lawsuit, was sick and did not attend the meeting.
Former supervisor Susan Siegel questioned why the town board did not wait for town planners' comments before issuing the certificate. The planning board members meet Monday night. She also said the board should have asked Lake Mohegan fire department officials for comment over parking at the Winery.
Grace said he did not want to hold up the process any longer.
Siegel said the Winery had not always been holding political events as it was supposed to based on a court order, but to prove that a violation of town codes has occurred, the town would have had to spend money on an investigator. She said part of the reason for the delayed building permit was not the town's, but rather the owner did not submit his paperwork.
DeChiaro, who and has been political allies with the new supervisor Michael Grace, credits the new leadership of the town for moving forward with his project.
"A businesses like Tom [DeChiaro]'s, are very valuable assets to the community because you provide a venue for fundraisers, which really does community service," Grace said at last week's town board meeting and added that he encourages everybody "who has been less than enthusiastic" to visit the Winery.
"Thank you for supporting us over these past six years as we worked to restore and open this beautiful and historic structure," DeChiaro said when notifying his customers of the town's decision.
A VIP ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned for March 1 to celebrate the official status of the Winery.
"We are going to be releasing our first labeled wine in May, for the 100th anniversary of the building," DeChiaro said, who is also business partners with his .
For more information on the winery, click on their website.
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