Costco developers to Riverhead ZBA, neighbors: Let’s make a deal!

08/09/2013 8:00 AM |
TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Excavation at the site of a future Costco on Route 58 stretches up to neighboring homes in Foxwood Village.

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Excavation at the site of a future Costco on Route 58 stretches up to neighboring homes in Foxwood Village.

The attorney for the controversial Shops at Riverhead, which will include a Costco Wholesale on Route 58, made the Riverhead Zoning Board of Appeals an offer Thursday night.

It went like this: approve the developers’ request for taller, fewer lights in the shopping center’s parking lot, and they’ll add 10 feet to a planned buffer between the stores and neighboring homes.

The developers have already angered residents in the adjacent Foxwood Village and Millbrook mobile home parks by clear-cutting nearly all of the trees from the 41-acre site.

Two weeks ago, their attorney, Peter Danowski, came to the ZBA seeking variances from the town’s lighting code that would allow lights in the shopping center that were 25 feet high instead of the permitted 16 feet.

The company also sought to install lighting fixtures exceeding illumination levels under a canopy at a gas station at the planned Costco Wholesale store.

Mr. Danowski said higher lights would enable them to reduce the number of light poles needed from 165 to 61. He said this would produce the same amount of lights and would be an improvement aesthetically and in terms of safety, because less cars would crash into light poles.

Neighbors, meanwhile, have told both the ZBA and the town Planning Board that the current fence dividing the land from neighbors, as well as a proposed vegetative buffer, are not sufficient.

Mr. Danowski’s offer did not change anyone’s mind in the audience Thursday, as numerous speakers urged the ZBA to reject the proposal for taller lights.

“We really feel you should say no to this application,” said Dominique Mendez of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition .

She and other speakers said they believe the applicant’s real motivation for building fewer light poles is simply to save money.

Residents also didn’t buy the logic that fewer poles are needed so drivers won’t crash into them.

“If people hit the poles, it’s because they can’t drive,” said Millbrook resident Diane Barba.

Marylee Feldman presented a petition with more than 200 signatures of residents urging the ZBA to reject Shops at Riverhead’s variance request.

Milbrook resident Chris Knopp asked that the developer put a 12- to 14-foot concrete fence up to shield neighbors from the shopping center.

He also said that Millbrook residents will likely get flooded in heaving rain storms because they are below the grade of the shopping center.

Another Millbrook resident said that since the trees were cleared, they get light and noise from Route 58 coming into their homes.

Shops at Riverhead had received approval from the town Planning Board to clear cut the site, agreeing with the developers that this was needed so they would not have to disturb the area twice if they decided to expand the site in the future, and also saying that it enabled them to avoid importing or exporting material from the site.

While the trees were cleared right to the Foxwoods property line, Shops at Riverhead plans to build a 30-foot vegetative buffer to shield the homes at Foxwood Village from the development.

Mr. Danowski said Thursday that if the ZBA approved the variance on the lighting poles, the developer will build a 40-foot buffer with evergreen trees.

The ZBA took no action on the application and adjourned it to the Aug. 22 meeting, which starts at 7 p.m.

tgannon@timesreview.com