Residents who live near the shopping center where a multiplex is proposed on Route 58 in Riverhead are concerned the height of the new stadium seating movie theater will negatively impact their quality of life.
During the Riverhead Town Zoning Board of Appeals public hearing Thursday night, neighbors also voiced their concerns that the new development will cause more traffic and litter.
The property owner, Riverhead PGC, which is a subsidiary of Phillips International in Manhattan, has proposed building a 10-screen, 1,490-seat multiplex where the former Walmart store was located. Two restaurants, including a drive-thru eatery, are also proposed.
The applicants are seeking a variance from the ZBA to construct a 60-foot building since the property’s height limit under the zoning is 35 feet.
“This will definitely take up the whole back of our house when I look out the window,” said James Hinchy, who lives on Oliver Street in a house located next door to the proposed multiplex. “The height of the building now is too much as it is. To increase it by nearly 50 percent is unfair to us.”
Mr. Hinchy also said he’s concerned about increased traffic on Oliver Street and described the 8-foot fence currently on the property as insufficient since it fails to keep garbage from blowing onto his property.
Mr. Hinchy added he’s tried to contact the property owner about the litter and never received a response.
“I didn’t say I don’t want a movie theater,” Mr. Hinchy said. “I don’t want to see the building.”
Harold Saperstein of Kings Drive described the current fence as a “disaster” since people throw bottles, cans and plastics bags over it.
Dale Young, who’s lived on Oliver Street since 1964, said she’s had difficulty with litter and noise coming from the trash compactors and loading docks at the Northville Turnpike shopping center that includes Kmart and BJ’s Wholesale Club.
“Now I’ll be getting it from both sides,” she said.
Charles Cuddy, the applicant’s attorney, said the front of the building will be 60 feet high and the east and rear of the building will be 55 feet high.
“The height increase may be considered substantial, but Riverhead now allows 60-feet buildings in the DC-1 district downtown [zoning],” Mr. Cuddy said. “In addition, many buildings that have been built in recent years are 50 feet high and close to 60 feet, so it’s not that unusual. To make the movie visual experience worthwhile, it’s necessary to have the additional height.”
William Kugelman of Phillips International said his company is in negotiations with Regal Cinemas to run the theater.
“We’ve assembled a team to bring this property to life and make it economically viable,” he told the crowd Thursday. “We are committed to work with the community and to work with the town.”
The proposal calls for demolishing a portion of the former Walmart building and the stores to the east of it, Mr. Cuddy said.
The multiplex will be smaller and set back further from neighbors than the existing building, he said, adding the current building is 71,000 square feet and the proposed multiplex will be 57,000 square feet.
ZBA member Frank Seabrook asked the applicant the height of the stadium seating theaters in Holtsville, Ronkonkoma and Stony Brook; VHB Engineering, which prepared the site plan for the applicant, agreed to have that information by the board’s next meeting.
Mr. Seabrook also asked the applicant to come up with a plan to decrease the visual impact of the project on neighbors.
Tom Najdzion of Ostrander Avenue said traffic is his major concern since drivers use the parking lot as a cut-through between Oliver Street and Ostrander Avenue. He suggested requiring traffic to go through the Route 58 entrance instead of side streets.
The two restaurants proposed call for a 7,500-square-foot eatery with 220 seats and a 2,600-square-foot restaurant with 125 seats and a drive-thru window.
The legal notice for the ZBA hearing stated the drive-thru window requires a variance since it isn’t permitted under the zoning. However, Mr. Cuddy said he plans to address the issue by filing a special permit with the Town Board. A variance for shared parking, which was also in the hearing notice, will be addressed through the site plan process before the Planning Board, Mr. Cuddy added.
The applicant is also seeking a variance to have only one loading dock instead of the three required by the zoning code.
Not everyone expressed opposition to the proposal Thursday.
Joseph Gilroy, who lives on Ostander Avenue, said he’s spoken to the property owner and is confident the company will work with neighbors.
“I’m all for it,” he said of the multiplex. “I think it’s a great thing for the Town of Riverhead.”
Mike Goodsell of Kings Drive said while he’s a fan of movies and is very excited about the proposed multiplex, he doesn’t believe the building should be 60 feet high.
ZBA member Leroy Barnes told the crowd, “Let’s face the reality. We need a movie theater in this town and we’re going to have one.”
The hearing was adjourned to the April 27 meeting. ZBA vice chairman Otto Wittmeier said the board plans to review the application and follow up with residents.
“I feel a lot of the complaints are with the owner of the existing property, which has nothing to do [with Regal],” he said.
Photo: Dale Young of Oliver Street addresses the Riverhead ZBA during a public hearing Thursday. (Credit: Tim Gannon)