Mineola auto body shop owner Louis Palumbo has hit a bit of a speedbump in its plans for expanding his business Gullwing Motors.
In May, Palumbo purchased the large building at 380 Sagamore Ave., which was previously the site of an autobody repair shop in order to split the work his shop does into two separate divisions: restorations and repairs.
“My intention is to separate the restoration portion of the repairs on the cars across the street so that we can keep them separate,” Palumbo said during a special use hearing of the village board on September 12 at the village hall, “because there’s a lot of dust. We want to keep Gullwing with the auto repairs as far as we can... and the restoration portion of the business would be done across the street.”
However, the building had a restriction placed on it several years ago by the Mineola Village Board, restricting another automotive repair business from operating out of the location.
The restriction was placed on the property in May 2006 when the former owner - Barron’s Auto Body – moved their business to 381 Sagamore Ave. with a restriction that the former location would no longer be used as an auto body shop in perpetuity in exchange for a new special use permit at their new location.
“While I understand the intended purpose, which has been accomplished,” Palumbo’s attorney Marco Silva said, “such a potentially long-term measure appears to have gone beyond what was needed at the time.”
Though village trustees Lawrence Werther and Paul Cusato were both on the board at the time of the restriction, neither could recall why the decision was made.
Palumbo said that his business is expanding, particularly in terms of classic cars, adding that he can also conduct body repairs should his customers desire, but that he is not actively targeting that market.
“I have enough business with the restoration,” Palumbo said. “I’m very busy with that. It’s the same thing we’ve been doing for the last 35 years, the only thing is we’re getting more restoration work so I want to just separate the two so we can move it a long a little quicker. Things can be more like an assembly line instead of getting things in each other’s way.”
In the neighborhood, which is home to several auto shop businesses, Detailing Dynamics recently expanded. The area also lost AutoSport Designs, which moved to Huntington to do auto restoration and repair.
“They are now in Huntington in a very large, state of the art facility and probably lost forever,” Silva said. “We don’t want the same thing to happen to Gullwing motors, but they do need room to expand.”
The property at 380 Sagamore Ave. has been transferred twice, including its most recent use as a Bina Office Furniture storage warehouse and is now being used as storage for 12 cars according to Silva. He added that while no violations have occurred, there was confirmation of the issuance of a notice of violation for parking cars on the premises for storage.
Palumbo’s business currently operates from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, until 2 p.m. on Saturdays and is closed Sundays. Additional workers would also be hired to operate the new facility. There are currently no lifts or springs in the building now, but Palumbo intends to add a spray booth in the new facility, which he reportedly does not have in his current location. Such a booth would necessitate the application for a fan and respective permits for other equipment in use for a spraypainting facility.
Silva stated that Palumbo was aware of the restriction before the property was purchased by him, but went ahead with the purchase anyway.
“If you knew that there was a restrictive covenant,” deputy mayor Paul Pereira said, “why did you purchase the property?”
Palumbo answered by saying that the location was “easier to manage” since it was across the street from his existing location and that since it is in an industrial zone “there would be no problem” getting the variance.
Silva admitted that his client took a chance on the purchase, “but it’s a calculated chance. Clearly the board that puts the restrictive covenant on it has the power to undo it. I understand what they were trying to do at the time and I think they probably went a little too far because this is potentially permanent and that can’t possibly be the intent because as I said, it sort of creates a situation where you are making competition impossible and that could not have been the purpose.”
Silva also went on to say that he was at a loss for what could possibly be placed in such a large industrially-zoned property because the restriction is “so bad that you can’t do auto body repair or even storage of vehicles; what’s left? I mean, you can do adult bookstores and things like that, that’s in the code specifically, but I don’t think that’s really going to happen. We’re not going to put in a restaurant; there’s very limited uses for it.”
“Adult bookstores, really? That doesn’t come to my mind,” Mayor Scott Strauss said. “I’m a little put off by that.”
Silva said it was “an example of the limited things that we can do and how ridiculous some of them are that clearly we’re not going to be doing.”
Harry Kutner, representing Robert Alden, the owner of Barron Auto Body, who sold the property in 2006, stated that Palumbo “bought this eyes open. He knew coming into this piece of property that this particular use in inappropriate. The village imposed this restriction for a set of reasons in 2006, they haven’t changed one iota: they wanted to limit the number of auto body shops in that area.”
Kutner negotiated the restrictions with the village in 2006 since Alden wanted to move to a larger facility. The negotiations ended in an agreement saying that in exchange for moving across the street, Alden could no longer use the property at 381 Sagamore Ave. as an auto body shop. He added that “nothing” has changed since 2006 and that Alden sold the property for about 60 percent of its estimated $1 million value to Bina instead of accepting offers from other auto body shops.
“My problem is not with Mr. Palumbo,” Alden said. “My problem is to me I’m at a loss because I could be expanding my business.”
In response, Pereira said that “I would think that future boards have the right to govern as they see fit at that time and what they believe is in the best interest of the village. I’m sorry Mr. Alden if you sold it for 60 percent less, but that frankly, is not our issue. If there were perspective buyers who wanted to put in an auto body shop, perhaps they should have asked that board at that time, maybe the answer would have been different. I take exception to the fact that ‘nothing has changed since 2006’.”
It was stated that there is spraypainting currently going on at the site, but Alden could not produce any hard evidence confirming the behavior. Building superintendent Dan Whalen stated that he did not observe any spraypainting on the premises at the time of his inspection. Silva said that the new spraybooths are “a very different thing” than the stereotype, as new ones are filtered and completely sealed and are cleaner, not allowing particulates to leak out of the facility.
Village attorney Ben Truncale requested a continuance of the hearing to review the legal notes and research the rationale behind the issuance of the initial restriction and the decisions made on the property before a vote is held.