Property behind the Friendly’s and KFC restaurants on Route 58 could soon be used for a 178-spot parking lot for Peconic Bay Medical Center, under a proposed, rent-free lease Town Board members informally agreed to on Thursday.
The undeveloped land is part of 1.9 acres owned by Augie Groeber of Aquebogue and runs behind the Meineke auto repair shop as well as the two restaurants.
Riverhead Town would have to lease for the property from its owner because under the zoning, a parking lot not connected to a home or “business” — in this case a hospital — is not allowed.
The town would then let the hospital use the land.
In 2009, there was a proposal to build a Compare Foods supermarket on this land, but the applicant withdrew the proposal in the middle of a public hearing after it met with sharp opposition from neighbors, many of whom belonged to the Roanoke Heights Civic Association.
Peconic Bay Medical Center has had severe parking shortages for some time, and hospital CEO Andrew Mitchell appealed to the Riverhead Town Board for help in May.
Mr. Mitchell said at the time that the hospital needs about 750 more parking spaces.
The latest proposal would provide parking for two years on Mr. Groeber’s property at no cost, except that the town or hospital would have to clear the trees from the property.
The lot would most likely be a gravel lot, since it’s intended to be temporary, officials said.
“The hospital is bursting at the seams,” Supervisor Sean Walter said.
Mr. Mitchell was unable to attend Thursday’s Town Board work session, where the issue was discussed, but attorney Charles Cuddy and Ted Lucki, both attended representing Mr. Groeber.
“Right now, the hospital is parking people way down by Walmart and bussing them up to the hospital,” Councilman John Dunleavy said.
Mr. Walter suggested using some of the 100 trees being donated to the town by NASCAR and Riverhead Raceway to create a buffer around the proposed new parking lot to keep some distance between the homes in the neighboring streets and the lot.
While officials suggested that neighbors might be opposed to the idea, they said it still would be better than having a store there.
“Would they rather see a hospital parking lot with a tree buffer there or would they rather have a commercial shopping center as a neighbor?” Mr. Walter asked.
“It’s an emergency situation for the hospital.” Mr. Lucki said. “They need this badly.”
Mr. Lucki, who owns Riverhead Toyota, said he is a friend of Mr. Groeber, who could not attend.
“To me, it is a win-win for the town and the hospital for two years,” Mr. Walter said.
Mr. Dunleavy said that if stores were to be built there, there would be traffic coming in and out of the lot and making noise, whereas, the parked cars would be quieter.
What happens after the two years is still an unknown, officials said.
“I’m afraid that in two years, after its been cleared, they’re going to develop it commercially,” Councilman George Gabrielsen said.
Despite that concern, board members did agree informally to move forward with the proposed lease.