Costco developers withdraw ZBA request to side-step dark skies laws

08/22/2013 9:11 PM |
RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | South Jamesport resident Larry Simms stated his concerns about Costco Wholesale's request to install lighting fixtures exceeding illumination levels at Thursday's ZBA hearing Thursday.

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | South Jamesport resident Larry Simms stating his concerns with a request to side-step the town’s dark skies laws at Thursday’s ZBA meeting.

Facing stiff opposition from neighbors and Riverhead civic leaders, the developers behind the Shops at Riverhead project now being built on Route 58 have withdrawn their request to build lights that are taller and brighter than what’s allowed under town code.

“I know there are many people here tonight to discuss the issue,” Peter Danowski, an attorney for the developers, explained at the start of Thursday night’s Zoning Board of Appeals meeting, which drew dozens of residents from neighboring communities already incensed with the future shopping center’s land being clear-cut of all its trees and vegetation.

“We will withdraw the application seeking the height variance with regard to poles,” Mr. Danowski said.

The developers were seeking variances from the town’s dark skies code, which would have allowed lights in the shopping center parking lot that were 25 feet high instead of the permitted 16 feet.

Mr. Danowski explained to ZBA members in July that higher lights would mean fewer light poles would be needed, from 165 to 61.

News of the withdrawn variance elicited a round of applause from neighbors and vocal civic leaders.

But some took to the podium in Town Hall to say they were still concerned about the company’s ongoing request to install lighting fixtures exceeding allowed illumination levels under a canopy at a gas station planned for outside the Costco Wholesale anchor store.

“There is simply nothing to justify a variance in this case,” said Larry Simms of South Jamesport. “I’d like to see [the company] comply.”

Jennifer Hartnagel, a senior environmental advocate at Group for the East End, said the company failed to make an argument for any potential hardship that would justify granting the variance.

“I believe safety was shown as the rationale, but it was not elaborated on at all,” Ms. Hartnagel said. “We fully support dark sky compliance ordinances and there’s no reason to grant this variance.”

Dark skies advocates here and elsewhere in the U.S. and Long Island have worked to support educational and legislative efforts to eliminate light pollution.

The ZBA adjourned the gas pumps request until its Sept. 12 meeting.

ryoung@timesreview.com