TIM GANNON PHOTO | Engineer John Gursky discusses his client’s proposed assisted living center on Mill Road at Thursday’s Planning Board meeting.
On the heels of a Suffolk County Planning Commission recommendation against rezoning 25 acres in Riverhead to allow for an assistant living complex, some members of the town’s Planning Board also expressed concerns about the plan at their meeting Thursday.
Concordia Senior Communities is proposing to build a 189-unit assisted living and continued care community on vacant farmland just north of Home Depot on Mill Road.
The Melville-based company has been seeking to build the facility in Riverhead for several years, but the town’s zoning didn’t allow such a use anywhere.
So, at the urging of Councilman John Dunleavy, who has championed the need for such a facility in the town, the Town Board about three years ago began developing a floating zone proposal that would allow assisted living on any property that meets a variety of criteria set out in the new zone, which is called Residence RC (Retirement Community).
The Town Board voted to create the new zone in June, and Corcordia filed an application to change the zoning of the Mill Road parcel, which Concordia is in contract to buy, from Agricultural Protection Zone to the new Residence RC zone shortly afterward.
“The purpose of the Concordia concept is to allow seniors to age in place,” Concordia CEO Ronald DeVito said Thursday. “This means that as a senior requires more care or assistance, our Concordia community will have the services in place to care for them.”
The Suffolk County Planning Commission opposed the project because it felt the agricultural protection zone land would be move valuable to the county as farmland than for assisted living.
On Thursday, Planning Board member Lyle Wells, who is a farmer, raised concerns with the proposed assisted living “because of the giveaways that are in it.”
Specifically, he said the number of non-assisted living units it allows are too many, and the number of assisted living units it allows are too few.
The draft site plan provided by Concordia shows 100 independent living units, which would be lived in by seniors who are healthy and and do not need extensive care.
Of these units, 25 “deluxe” units would rent for $5,700 to $5,850 per month for 1,200 square feet.
The other independent units start at $3,950 and go to as much as $4,975 per month.
The draft site plan also has 65 “enriched” housing units, which have a higher level of care, 12 enhanced assisted living residences, for seniors who require enhanced levels of care and skilled nursing services, and 12 special needs assisted living residences, for seniors who suffer from cognitive impairments like Alzheimer’s disease.
The most expensive of these units rents for $11,400 per month, according to Concordia. All of the units are intended for people ages 65 and over.
The rents include meals, housekeeping services, laundry services, activities, yard maintenance and access to wellness programs and a fitness center on the site, according to Concordia.
Mr. DeVito said afterward that the higher number of independent units are meant to subsidize the cost of the assisted care units in order to keep them affordable.
He said this is the only way such a facilty can work, financially.
Mr. DeVito told the Planning Board Thursday that the Riverhead project will be affordable and will meet affordability guidelines set by the federal department of Housing and Urban Development.
“We want to provide facilities where the people in the community in which we’re providing can afford it,” Mr. DeVito told the board.
The rents at some of the “high-end” assisted living facilities are about $6,800 per month and higher, he said.
Another concern the farming community had with the project was that it provides housing densities greater than those allowed with the purchase of transferred development rights from preserved farmland, without having to purchase farmland rights.
Farmers say that requiring commercial projects to use transferred development rights helps preserve farms in town.
Board member Joe Baier asked Mr. DeVito if the proposal uses TDR, and when Mr. DeVito began to explain, Mr. Baier interjected, “yes or no?”
Mr. DeVito said it does not.
The zoning does allow more units per acre for units that meet affordability guidelines. Mr. Devito said the entire project will meet those guidelines, and all of the units will be rentals.
Mr. Dunleavy urged the planning board to support the project. He said the farmland it’s located on hasn’t been farmed since 1979, and that assisted living is needed because the town has a large senior citizen population..
Mr. DeVito said after the meeting that the Mill Road parcel is the only site in Riverhead they will consider for the project. He said they looked at many sites before choosing this one, and all other sites, including EPCAL, are too far from stores and businesses that seniors could walk to.
“It’s nice to be near shopping, but are these people going to be shopping?” asked planning board chairman Richard O’Dea. He asked if the project could work at EPCAL. Mr. DeVito said only if EPCAL were developed with commercial uses, which it currently doesn’t have.
“The concept is good, it’s the mechanism I have problems with,” said board member Ed Densieski, who said he thinks assisted living is needed in town.
The Planning Board is merely being asked to make a recommendation to the Town Board, which casts the vote on the zone change application, and which is under no obligation to go along with the Planning Board recommendation.
However, in order to approve the zone change, the Town Board needs four of its five members to override the Suffolk County Planning Commission recommendation, and so far, it’s not certain the zone change will have four votes, as Councilman George Gabrielsen said he’s leaning toward opposing the zone change and Council members Jodi Giglio and Jim Wooten are undecided.