03/27/14 7:00pm
03/27/2014 7:00 PM
The site of the Costco/Shops at Riverhead plaza on Route 58. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

The site of the Costco/Shops at Riverhead plaza on Route 58 on Thursday. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

The developers of the Costco/Shops at Riverhead development on Route 58 have been issued a stop work order barring them from taking sand on or off the site, according to Town Attorney Bob Kozakiewicz.

“There’s an allegation that they were exporting sand, as seen by code enforcement officer Richard Downs on Tuesday,” Mr. Kozakiewicz said.

(more…)

12/31/13 12:00pm
12/31/2013 12:00 PM
Suffolk Theater in Riverhead

KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO | The historic Suffolk Theater in downtown Riverhead reopened earlier this year.

On the fast track at EPCAL

A monumental hurdle was cleared in the effort to finally bring economic development to the Enterprise Park at Calverton. That hurdle came in the form of state legislation, passed in October, designed to fast-track development proposals for 600 subdivided acres of town land at the former Grumman site. Several EPCAL proposals have fallen apart in the past, usually because they found themselves in a jurisdictional purgatory among governments. This legislation should solve the problem. Though nothing was built this year, the work of state and local lawmakers, namely Sean Walter, Ken LaValle and Fred Thiele, should pay dividends later in the form of jobs and tax base.

Little more than a land grab

Riverhead Town had set out to subdivide 800 acres of town-owned property at EPCAL, yet the subdivision map that’s been sketched out shows 600 acres that will be sold. The loss of 200 acres comes because the state Department of Environmental Conservation outlined land that could not be developed at EPCAL due to protected species. While we’re not about ruining sensitive habitats, the last we checked, preserving huge swaths of land usually involves some sort of financial transaction. If the state doesn’t want this acreage developed, it must compensate the town accordingly. The proceeds could help fund necessary sewer plant upgrades and other infrastructure improvements at the site.

ThumbUpBye-bye sex offenders

Six years is an awfully long time for one community to house the county’s entire homeless sex offender population. In fact, it’s six years too long.

But we were happy to report this year that the homeless sex offender trailers in Riverside were finally moved and the sex offenders were placed in shelters across the county.

The trailer system was never a good idea and the county’s handling of the situation was appalling.

The only good that ever came of it was the day the trailers finally left.

ThumbdownA clear-cut disaster at Costco site

The town gave away the store by granting developers of the Route 58 Costco project the OK to clear-cut an entire 41-acre property in 2013, including 11 acres in which there are no immediate plans to build. The measure saved the developers money but short-changed taxpayers $374,100 in fees on imported fill. The reason given by the developers was that they didn’t want to disturb neighbors twice (should they build more later). Somehow this argument held water with the Planning Board, which approved the site plan in 2012, and the Town Board, which granted an excavation permit this year. Neighbors in the Foxwood and Millbrook communities now enjoy views of sand pits and strings of small arborvitae.

ThumbUpThe Suffolk Theater reopens

The history of the Suffolk Theater is too long and fraught with ups and downs to fit into this space but in 2013, the art deco-style theater saw a big “up” as it reopened after years of effort from Bob and Dianne Castaldi.

In the wake of the opening of the theater, which has hosted events from concerts to comics to debates to psychics, a variety of other businesses have opened their doors in the area on Main Street — exactly the hope of many who awaited the theater’s return.

The Castaldis were named People of the Year by the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce for their efforts, with East End Arts executive director Pat Snyder calling the anchor site a “point of pride” for the town.

ThumbdownRotten to the Common Core

New York State has agreed to adopt high-stakes testing and controversial teacher evaluation systems tied to Common Core State Standards in exchange for a one-time installment of $700 million in federal Race to the Top grant money. That’s less than 3 percent of what the state spends in a single year on education, experts say. Hardly seems worth the money to tie ourselves to a system that, at best, may help already college-bound kids attend marginally better colleges but will likely cause at-risk youths, English language learners and students with disabilities to fail in school in even greater numbers. Since the overhaul wasn’t created by legislation, lawmakers can, and do, deflect blame.

11/06/13 9:00am
11/06/2013 9:00 AM
TIM GANNON PHOTO | A fence and vegetative berm bordering Foxwoods Village.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | A fence and vegetative berm bordering Foxwoods Village.

To the relief of some, construction has started on a vegetative berm and buffer abutting homes in Foxwood Village, on the northern end of The Shops at Riverhead, where nearby residents have been infuriated by the clear cutting of 41 acres of trees at the proposed shopping center, saying it increases dust and noise at their properties and creates security concerns.

While the town Planning Board had threatened to pull the permits on the Route 58 project as a result of the original berm plans, they were never revoked after recent changes were made to the board’s satisfaction.

Jeff Murphree, the town planning and building administrator, said the new information submitted by the developer “clarifies” the previous information.

An evergreen buffer and fence also is planned along part of the eastern boundary of the property, near the Millbrook Community, a mobile home park on Mill Road, officials have said.

The berm under construction is about four feet high and has evergreen trees being planted on top of it that are about eight feet high. Additional trees are proposed. There also is a six foot wooden fence along the property line with Foxwood Village; however, residents there have called it inadequate.

Residents have also questioned why the developer needed to cut down all the trees near their homes in the first place, since there is no building planned in that area in the approved site plan.

Peter Danowski, the attorney for the project – which will feature a Costco Warehouse as its anchor tenant – has said the project is a “balanced cut and fill,” whereby no sand would be imported or exported from the site, but would instead be moved around to regrade the land.

He said that once the berm and buffer are constructed, residents will be happy with it.

“In certain parts, it’s good,” said Marylee Feldman, president of the Foxwood Village Homeowners Association, which has been critical of the plans. “For some of the residents, it’s good. It’s fine, because it’s way higher than the fence. Once they put the trees on, it will be very good if they space them correctly.”

However, she said the trees won’t provide an adequate buffer if they’re not spaced correctly.

Robert Hall, a Foxwood Village resident who has monitored Planning Board meetings on the Shops at Riverhead application for the past four years, says he believes the trees that are being planted are too far apart to provide adequate screening, and are too small.

Foxwood Village residents still plan to go back to the Planning Board on Nov. 7 to ask for a better fence.

“I think this one will fall down by itself. It’s very rickety and not constructed properly,” Ms. Feldman said.

Residents have questioned the need to cut all the trees that were there initially, saying the “balanced cut and fill approach” was merely intended to save money for the developer.

“Some questions will never get answered,” Ms. Feldman said. “I just hope it’s okay” in the long run, she said.

Following the negative reaction to the project’s clear cutting, the Riverhead Town Board last week adopted new regulations that would require large commercial projects adjacent to residences to retain 50-foot natural buffers, or to construct a 50-foot vegetative buffer if one doesn’t exist naturally.

Supervisor Sean Walter said that requirement will apply to Shops at Riverhead only if the developer attempts to build more stores in the northern part of the property.

The Shops at Riverhead, which is now owned by Brixmor Property Group of New York, would be required to buy transferred farmland development rights in order to be able to build any more than what is currently proposed.

tgannon@timesreview.com

10/17/13 7:00am
10/17/2013 7:00 AM
TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Excavation at the site of a future Costco on Route 58.

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Excavation in July at the site of a future Costco on Route 58.

To the editor:

There certainly should have been more consideration afforded the adjacent community by the contractor of the Shops at Riverhead. I fully support the protesters for the lack of local workers — both union and non-union.

Jobs should be a primary consideration in approving any major construction.

However, the protesting politicians who are against the coming of Costco, and view it as an issue to hang their hats on, are in for an unpleasant surprise. Everyone I have spoken to has only one major complaint: “What’s taking so long to open? We can’t wait!”

And all reports indicate Costco pays relatively excellent pay and benefits, while also offering a realistic path to advancement. Sounds like a great addition to Riverhead.

Ed Goldstein, Baiting Hollow

10/11/13 4:29pm
10/11/2013 4:29 PM
TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Excavation at the site of a future Costco on Route 58.

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Excavation at the site of a future Costco on Route 58.

The Riverhead Town Planning Board has scheduled a special meeting Tuesday to “review and possibly take action on The Shops at Riverhead site plan.”

The meeting will be held at 4 p.m. in Town Hall.

The Shops at Riverhead is the proposed 271,000 square foot shopping center on the north side of Route 58, across from Riverhead Raceway, which drew a protest last week from more than one group of gatherers.

The project, which will feature a Costco Warehouse store as its anchor, has run into complaints from neighbors because the developer clear cut all the trees on the site right up to their property line, though the work was done with the approval of the Town Board and Planning Board.

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The Shops at Riverhead has also drawn complaints from the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 138, 138A, 138B & 138C, which says the developer is using out of state, non-union labor. They have been picketing outside the site for weeks, and have three large inflatable rats along the road in front of the property.

The Planning Board recently has threatened to revoke the building permits issued to Shops at Riverhead because it stated that a berm constructed along the property line was not property engineered. To date, however, they have not done so, but assistant town attorney Bill Duffy said that is a possibility for Tuesday.

Ali Moayeri, Costco’s senior vice president for construction, said in an interview on Wednesday that the clearing of the property and the design for the berm had nothing to do with Costco. He said the overall developer of the site, Brixmor Property Group, handled that.

Mr. Moayeri said Costco had to wait for Brixmor to do clearing and grading and installation of utilities before they could even get onto their store’s foundation on site, which they did about two weeks ago.

Costco has purchased its foundation on the site.

Mr. Moayeri said Brixmor hired non-union labor for that part of the job and the unions immediately began picketing outside the site and blaming Costco.

He said Costco had a union contract signed and ready to go with Whiting-Turner, a contractor they have used on many projects.

However, when the unions continued picking this and other Costco sites and stores, Costco “felt like we were being punished for trying to do the right thing.”

He said Costco then rebid the job “open shop,” which means both union and non-union contractors could compete.

Whiting-Turner ended up backing out because they couldn’t match those prices, Mr. Moayeri said, and T.D. Farrell of Georgia was selected.

Mr. Moayeri said they have some union contractors on the site, though most are non-union. The sub-contractors hired by T.D. Farrell include both union and non-union, he said.

Mr. Moayeri said regardless of whether contractors are union or non-union, Costco has a policy that all workers on its construction jobs be paid fair market wages, as determined by the federal Davis-Bacon Act.

Representatives of Brixmor have yet to respond to several requests for comment.

10/10/13 8:00am
10/10/2013 8:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Foxwood Village residents picketed in front of the Costco constuction site on Route 58 Tuesday morning.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Foxwood Village residents picketed in front of the Costco constuction site on Route 58 Tuesday morning.

Three sets of demonstrators descended on a Riverhead construction site Tuesday, making for a boisterous scene that blended union gripes, neighbor beefs and political aspirations along Route 58, where a Costco Wholesale is in the works.

Neighbors from the adjacent Foxwood Village gathered to rally against the developer’s having clear-cut all trees that had been on the property, which stretches north from the busy thoroughfare. The neighbors have also taken issue with what they say is a flimsy fence the developer has put up along the property lines.

Union workers on hand protested the developers’ alleged use of out-of-state workers on the job.

And, finally, Democratic candidates in this fall’s elections protested the decisions of the current all-Republican Town Board that permitted the clear-cutting.

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Millie Thomas, Democratic Town Board candidate, handed out her palm cards and criticized the current Town Board.

“We are outraged by what happened here,” Ms. Thomas said. “They cleared 42 acres of land. We didn’t need a Costco. We have BJ’s down the road, we have Walmart, and it is only going to bring low-paying jobs. We have people here who need jobs and they’ve hired out-of-state workers.”

John McManmon, Democratic candidate for state assembly, and Democratic Town Board candidate Bill Bianchi were also was on hand, and Mr. Bianchi said he also handed out campaign information.

“We’ve only got three and a half weeks until the election,” he said. “You want to meet as many people as you can. I think the residents of Foxwood Village have a right to complain.”

Marylee Feldman, president of the Foxwood Village Homeowners Association, said about 25 Foxwood residents participated in the rally, held on the north side of Route 58, in front of the project. Foxwood residents organized the rally, which was publicized on riverheadnewsreview.com the day before.

The union workers have been protesting at the work site for months.

Several members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 138, 138A, 138B & 138C were present, along with three large, inflatable rats and a truck driving back and forth with a message critical of the decision to hire out-of-town workers.

“Shame on Costco Wholesale,” read a large sign on a moving truck. “Costco and their general contractor, TD Farrell from Georgia, are undermining the standard of living for Long Island’s Working Families. They are awarding work to unqualified, poorly trained out-of-state workers who won’t pay their fair share of local taxes.”

Representatives from TD Farrell did not return a call seeking comment. Union members at the rally declined to speak to a reporter.

The 271,000 square-foot project, called The Shops at Riverhead, features Costco as its anchor store. The application received site plan approval from the Planning Board in late 2012 before receiving clearing permits from the Town Board earlier this year.

The neighbors on hand accused the project developers, Heritage-Riverhead Retail Corporation LLC and Brixmor Property Group, of dragging their feet over a requirement by the town to submit updated plans for a berm that would serve as a buffer between Foxwood Village and the project. The Planning Board said the elevations submitted by the developer in connection with the proposed berm along the Foxwood Village property line had not been properly engineered.

The board gave the developer a week to correct the issues, or risk losing their building permit. Although the developer has yet to submit elevation plans revised to the town’s liking, the town has not yet pulled the building permit.

“The Planning Board gave them a deadline, they bring in a plan, but it’s not correct, so the Planning Board just gives them more time,” said Barbara Ross, whose home in Foxwood Village directly abuts the construction site.

“They are just not doing anything,” Ms. Feldman said of the town.

The neighbors also want the developer to improve the quality and size of the fence along the property line. They have called it a “toy fence.”

Peter Danowski, attorney for the applicant, could not be reached for comment.

Planning Board attorney Bill Duffy said the board is requiring the developers to submit new plans, but he said they have not given them an official deadline because it would not be in the town’s best interests to pull the building permits now and leave the area covered in loose sand.

“We’ve made it clear we want this done right away and we’re not going to keep going back to the drawing board,” Mr. Duffy said.

Of the rally, he said, “I feel bad that the neighbors felt that way, but I’m spending more than half my time on this. I’ve tried to explain everything to them, and we’re trying to do everything we can.”

Supervisor Sean Walter said he doesn’t think the issue should be made into a “political rally.”

He said the part of the development closest to homes is not slated to be constructed in the first phase of the project, and the developers would need to buy transferred development rights in order to build the proposed second phase.

The Town Board plans to adopt in the coming weeks new rules requiring commercial projects adjacent to residences to have a 50-foot vegetative buffer.

“We think that will resolve the problem,” Mr. Walter said.

tgannon@timesreview.com

10/07/13 11:56am
10/07/2013 11:56 AM
TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO  |  The fence that runs along Foxwood Village and the Shops at Riverhead property lines.

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | The fence that separates Foxwood Village and the Shops at Riverhead.

Foxwood Village residents will hold a rally along Route 58 Tuesday to speak out against the developers of the Shops at Riverhead shopping center being built next to the retirement community.

Residents have been up in arms ever since the developers clear-cut the entire property, which stretches north from Route 58, even on land for which there are no current plans to build.

Just a small wooden fence now divides the shopping center property and Foxwood homes. Residents have also complained about the fence.

The developers had been given a deadline by the town by which to submit new plans for a proposed buffer separating the properties, and although they did file new plans by the town’s deadline, town attorneys had said those plans were insufficient.

The town is threatening to revoke the building permits for the project, which will feature a Costco Wholesale as its anchor store.

“They have just stalled the town with extension after extension and they have not kept their promise to make it right,” resident Paul Spina said as the reason for the rally along Route 58. ”We will be asking that they stop stalling and improve both the berm and the fence.”

The event will run from 10 a.m. to noon.

mwhite@timesreview.com

10/03/13 11:14am
10/03/2013 11:14 AM

 

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Excavation at the site of a future Costco on Route 58.

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Excavation at the site of a future Costco on Route 58.

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.

psquire@timesreview.com

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated how much land Mr. Groeber owns.