TIM GANNON PHOTO
The former Suffolk Life building on Route 58.
Site plans for a Lowe’s Home Improvement store at the old Suffolk Life property on Route 58 received approval from the Riverhead Town Planning Board Thursday, and the developers say they are hoping to begin demolition on the boarded-up Suffolk Life building by the end of the summer.
“It’s a complete rebuild of the site,” said Joseph Buzzell, the attorney for Lowe’s. “Everything goes.”
The planning board approval was not unanimous.
Planning board member Joe Baier voted against the Lowe’s site plan, and board member Lyle Wells was absent.
“I just think we have too many of these home centers,” Mr. Baier said, citing Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Riverhead Building Supply, which will all be within close proximity of each other.
“Someone is going to lose and we’re going to have vacant stores,” Mr. Baier said.
“It’s a capitalist country that’s build on competition,” board member Ed Densieski said. “I hope the residents get better prices because of this, and it’s also getting rid of a huge eyesore.”
Planning board chairman Richard O’Dea said there was a recent court ruling saying that competition is not a factor that can be considered in zoning cases.
That ruling was part of the recent decision in which a state appellate court overturned a town rejection of a new Walmart store on the west end of Route 58.
Mr. Densieski did raise concerns about the lighting on the property, which the town Zoning Board of Appeals allowed to exceed the lumination levels of the town’s “dark skies” ordinance, but he said there’s nothing the planning board can do about that.
The planning board approval allows Lowe’s to move to the next step and close on the sale of the property, which was contingent on the Lowe’s receiving approval. The property is owned by the estate of late Suffolk Life publisher David Willmott, who died last year.
Suffolk Life operated its newspaper there from 1985 to 2008. Prior to that, it had been a Billy Blakes department store, a Great Eastern department store and Big Wheel Roller Rink.
Lowe’s representatives said they hope to begin demolition in July, and they believe construction can be completed about a year from then.
The new Lowe’s also will mean a new traffic light on Route 58.
The company said it would not proceed with the Riverhead project unless there was a traffic light at the entrance to the property, which aligns with the western entrance of Riverhead Centre.
The Suffolk County Department of Works rejected the new light earlier this year, saying there were too many lights in close proximity on that stretch of road.
However, the county legislature last week voted to override the DPW, and County Executive Steve Levy signed the override, meaning the light is approved.
Mr. Buzzell said the new light will be synchronized with the other lights on Route 58.
He said Lowe’s also agreed to cross easements with the property owners to the east and west of the site, so that traffic won’t have to go back on Route 58 as much.