Written by Rich Forestano Friday, 17 June 2011 00:00
A “paradise” was not the scene at last week’s public hearing at Village Hall in Mineola; at least not for 99 Cents Paradise.
Storeowner Saleem Usman came before the board of trustees to attain a special use permit to sell food at the store. However, Mayor Scott Strauss and the board had other ideas, ideas that concerned village code.
99 Cents Paradise has been unlawfully selling food at the store already. Village code requires a permit for that function.
The store has no food prepared at the store, but sells assorted candies, cookies, etc., according to Usman. The store also holds a freezer for frozen food.
According to Usman, the store holds one aisle of food. The store is 4,700 square feet. He estimated that between 250-300 square feet is dedicated to food.
Usman said he had no idea he needed permission to sell food at the store. Strauss begged to differ.
Usman stated he’d stop selling food immediately, which Strauss did not believe. Furthermore, Usman stated that in negotiating the lease with the landlord, he received permission to sell food, but not frozen food. The cooler apparently holds milk, eggs and sometimes cheese.
Trustee Paul Cusato said he went to the store and looked at the cooler, which is rather large to just hold two types of items.
“From what I’ve been told, when you came originally to open that store, we asked if you were going to sell food,” Strauss said. “You left that meeting, had a conference and you said no. Now, the store is open and you’re selling food. We’ve received complaints.”
Usman owns three other stores in Queens. Deputy Mayor Paul Pereira cited that “ignorance is no excuse.”
“This is not the first time that we’ve had an application of this nature,” he said. “What I think we’re having a problem with is that clearly, by owning three other establishments and having to have followed the laws in that municipality, which is New York City, ignorance is no excuse. I do not think you’re ignorant. I think you knew exactly what you were doing.”
Pereira felt that this rigmarole would slow down the process of getting anywhere. “Had you done the right thing from the beginning, we would not be having this conversation right now and you would not have to wait that long,” he said.
The village issued a summons to 99 Cents Paradise on March 22. According to Pereira, the store was additionally summonsed last Wednesday.
“I thought of the process to apply for the permit and if it is rejected then we can stop selling food,” Usman said.
A perplexed Strauss reiterated the chain of events that led to last week’s meeting and couldn’t understand why the store is not complying with village code.
“Are you still selling food?” Strauss asked, with Usman answering yes. “So you don’t care about rules in Mineola?”
“No, I do,” Usman said.
With regards to using a private carting company for moving the stores’ waste, village attorney representative Ben Truncale asked the store to continue to use it if the application were approved. Mayor Strauss said the store must stop selling food until the village renders a decision.
“Without selling food, we’ll have to close the store,” Usman said. “As it is, business is very slow. We’ve been talking to the landlord to get out of the lease. We have a one-year binding agreement. The truth is without selling food, we’ll be out of business. However, we will follow the law and I will take out the food for now.”
Usman requested later that he only have to remove the cooler from the store and slowly take out the other food items to prevent customer dissipating. A few members of the board were unclear if that were possible. Strauss made the suggestion moot.
“The law is the law, and right now you flaunted it in our face,” Strauss said. “You were told from the beginning that you couldn’t sell food. You made the decision on your own not to do what we asked you to do. The law stands.”
Regarding the application, this matter will be referred to the Nassau County Planning Commission (NCPC) based on its proximity of 500 feet from a state road (Jericho Turnpike) under general municipal law. The board would most likely wait 30 days for a NCPC decision and a negative declaration pursuant to the SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) as an unlisted action before making a decision.