A planned change to Riverhead Town’s zoning code that would require buffer zones around commercial developments was praised by civic groups and derided by property owners at a public hearing during Tuesday’s Town Board meeting.
The proposal would require any commercial property with a building of more than 5,000 square feet to keep a 50-foot buffer zone of trees or shrubs between it and the neighboring properties. Any property with a building equal to or less than 5,000 square feet would need a 25-foot buffer.
Current zoning law requires a 10-foot buffer zone around all commercial properties.
The zoning change was proposed after the Town Board faced public outrage over construction work at the Route 58 Costco development that resulted in clear-cutting up to the property lines of two residential communities.
Brian DeLuca, president and CEO of Group for the East End, an environmental organization, said it was “absolutely necessary” for larger commercial projects like Costco to have a buffer zone.
“The protection of the character of the town, this region, is vital to this economy,” he said at the hearing.
Representatives from the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition and the Wading River Civic Association, also lent their support to the zoning change.
RNPC president Dominique Mendez said the buffer zone will improve residents’ quality of life and suggested the board consider applying the requirement to multi-family apartment developments as well as commercial properties.
But commercial property owners said the zoning would take a substantial bite out of their land, reducing the value of their properties.
Aquebogue property owner Walter Binger says that homeowners who live near commercially zoned areas have “no right” to demand commercial property owners set aside land for buffer zones.
“I have rights,” he said. “Other commercial property owners have rights.”
August Groeber, who owns 2 acres of property, also railed against the proposal.
He said that since he purchased his land years ago, zoning changes have reduced the area he can develop to about a sixth of what he once could, reducing the property’s worth. While builders on larger plots may be able to afford a 50-foot buffer, Mr. Groeber said he would lose even more land under the new zoning regulations.
“You’re stealing my land and you’re giving it to my neighbors,” he said. “You aimed at Costco and you hit me.”
Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said the town will look at neighboring towns’ zoning regulations to see how they handle buffer zones before continuing with amending the code.
The public hearing will remain open for written comment until Oct. 11, town officials said.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated how much land Mr. Groeber owns.