No public referendum coming on firehouse sale

08/05/2014 12:34 PM |
The Second Street firehouse was obtained by Riverhead in 2011 in a land swap with the Riverhead Fire District. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch file)

The Second Street firehouse was obtained by Riverhead in 2011 in a land swap with the Riverhead Fire District. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch file)

There will be no townwide referendum on the town board’s decision to sell the Second Street firehouse to Suffolk Theater owner Bob Castaldi for $500,000.

The 30-day permissive referendum period, during which residents could have submitted a petition challenging the sale and forced a public vote on the issue, ended last Wednesday.

Riverhead resident Ray Baldwin said he had petitions drawn up and was planning to challenge the town vote, but ultimately did not.

“When I went around doing petitions, not too many people in this town really cared … about anything,” Mr. Baldwin said.

He added that he had heard the Riverhead School District was interested in the property, but was told by school officials that they were interested in putting their maintenance department there, which Mr. Baldwin said he had no interest in seeing.

“If it was for the kids, it would be a different story,” he said.

The board approved the potential sale on July 1 to Mr. Castaldi, who specializes in historic restorations, for $500,000. The town is only selling the building and not the parking lot.

The permissive referendum would have required that five percent of the registered voters in the last gubernatorial election sign a petition in opposition.

“I didn’t think anybody would challenge it, because it’s a pretty fair price for a building that’s not in great shape,” Supervisor Sean Walter said. “There’s a reason the fire district vacated the premises. You had to expect that the residents would accept a sale price of $500,000 for this.”

But before the sale can take place, the Town Board, according to the measure it passed authorizing the sale, “must consider” several conditions asked for by Mr. Castaldi.

Among these, the Town Board must consider, on its own motion, a zone change for the property from Downtown Center-4, its current zone, to Downtown Center-1, the zone that covers most of Main Street in downtown Riverhead and which permits retail uses and upper floor apartments, among other uses.

The zoning caps the number of apartments in DC-1 at 500.

Mr. Castaldi said in a recent interview that he asked for the zone change because there aren’t many viable uses in the DC-4 zone, especially since the town isn’t selling the parking lot. He said he has yet to decide what use he plans for the building.

The July 1 resolution also calls for the Town Board to make grant funds available to Mr. Castaldi that it is seeking from the state for an agri-tourism center and farmers market at the firehouse site.

The town also must allow Mr. Castaldi to conduct environmental reviews of the property, at his own cost, within 60 days, and to sell the property within 30 days after that review is complete.

Earlier in the year, Mr. Castaldi was one of only two bidders for the firehouse, which the town acquired from the Riverhead Fire District in a land swap in 2011. At that time, Mr. Castaldi bid $375,000 for the building, and planned to lease it to a Japanese company for an interactive dinosaur theater.

That deal lost the support of the majority of Town Board members after the estimate to renovate the Route 58 Armory into a police and courts headquarters came in at $13 million, and some officials wanted to consider using the firehouse for town offices. But using the firehouse for municipal purposes lost board support after they found out that the cost of simply studying that option was $85,000.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio cast the sole “no” vote on the July 1 resolution, saying she felt the town should seek a new request for proposals on the property since it is now considering changing the zone, which wasn’t the case when it originally issued a request for proposals for the firehouse.

“I think that we should be getting an appraisal on the property and we should be going out for a request for proposals so that the people that put in proposals to buy the property can rebid it, seeing as now we’re changing the terms of the agreement,” Ms. Giglio said at the time.

The proposed zone change on the property will require a public hearing.