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.

09/19/13 6:05pm
09/19/2013 6:05 PM
TIM GANNON PHOTO | The northern part of the Costco property off Route 58 in Riverhead.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | The northern part of the Costco property off Route 58 in Riverhead.

The developers of The Shops at Riverhead shopping center on Route 58 will have one week to get the Riverhead Town Planning Board corrected site elevations for a berm the developers are proposing to build along the northern boundary of their property, abutting the Foxwood Village retirement community.

If the corrected plans are not in by Sept. 26, the town will revoke the building permit for the project, town officials said.

Bill Duffy, the attorney to the Planning Board, said the town’s consulting engineer believes the ground elevations submitted by the developers are incorrect.

“The berm was supposed to be high to block the view’ of the shopping center from neighboring residents, Mr. Duffy said at Thursday’s Planning Board meeting.

Based on the elevations submitted by the application, he said, “That’s not necessarily going to happen.”

The developers were supposed to get the new information to the Planning Board by tomorrow, but the board decided to give them more time.

Planning Board member Ed Densieski suggested a drop-dead deadline “to get the corrected information in, and issue a stop-work order if they don’t.”

“Based on the fact they submitted falsified information,” he said.

Mr. Duffy said the town would have to first revoke the building permit before it could issue a stop-work order.

The board directed Mr. Duffy to send a letter to the developers — Heritage-Riverhead Retail Developers — stating that if the corrected information is not submitted by Sept. 26, the town will revoke the building permit.

Clear-cutting of trees at the Shops at Riverhead, which will contain a Costco Wholesale as its anchor store, has angered residents of the neighboring Foxwood community to the north and Millbrook Community to the east.

They’ve also complained that fencing dividing the properties is inadequate.

Foxwood Village president Peter Mastropolo recently hired a land surveyor, John Ehlers, to review the approved plans for the Shops at Riverhead, and determined the elevations showing the natural topography of the land where a berm is proposed along the northern property line were incorrect.

The town planning department now agrees with that assessment.

Planning director Rick Hanley said the elevations, which show how high above sea leave the land is, before the development began, showed only the easternmost portion of the berm area, which had the highest elevation.

Mr. Hanley said the Planning Board was led to believe that this was the elevation for the entire site when it approved the site plan.

Peter Danowski, the attorney for the applicant, was not at Thursday’s Planning Board meeting, but he discussed the berm issue during an interview on Wednesday in response to comments Supervisor Sean Walter had made about the berm at a Town Board meeting the day before.

“The Ehlers elevation shots at the property line are not terribly inconsistent with what’s on our plans,” Mr. Danowski said on Wednesday.

“In fact, I would say they are consistent.”

Mr. Danowski said Mr. Ehler’s drawings don’t show the landscape plan that the Planning Board approved, which calls for the berm and the planting of evergreen trees along the property line forming a 30-foot buffer.

He said that once that plan is in place, he believes residents will be happy with it.

tgannon@timesreview.com

09/14/13 2:30pm
09/14/2013 2:30 PM

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Foxwood Village co-owner Peter Mastropolo at last week’s Planning Board meeting.

The approved drawings for The Shops at Riverhead shopping center under construction on Route 58 are incorrect, and would put the center’s parking lot six feet above the top of a fence that now runs along the property’s border with the Foxwood Village retirement community.

So said Peter Mastropolo, president of the corporation that owns Foxwood Village, at last Thursday’s Riverhead Planning Board meeting in Town Hall.

Foxwood residents have been up in arms ever since the developers of The Shops at Riverhead, which will feature a Costco as its anchor tenant, cleared the entire 41-acre site right up to the Foxwood property line earlier this year — even though the developers don’t have current plans to build on the entire property.

The Shops at Riverhead, owned by Manhattan-based Heritage-Riverhead Retail Developers, LLC, received Planning Board approval last year to clear the entire site so they wouldn’t need to import or export sand to grade the land. The approval requires the developers to create a 30-foot vegetative buffer and a four-foot-tall berm along the Foxwood property line to replace the trees that were cleared, but that buffer has yet to be constructed.

Foxwood residents have also complained about the quality, or lack thereof, of the six-foot-high wooden fence erected along the property line by the developers and requested last Thursday that it be replaced with a sound wall.

“When it came time to clear the land and the trees were removed, it became very obvious that the impact on Foxwood Village was going to be more severe and more than what was stated in the drawings that were presented to the Planning Board,” Mr. Mastropolo said at last week’s meeting.

He said that when he and other Foxwood residents were protesting a recent Zoning Board of Appeals applications filed by the developer seeking a variance on town lighting laws, “we did some actual surveying and found that the drawings showing the elevations were incorrect.”

Foxwood Village has since hired its own surveyors to review the developer’s plans, he said.

“When they installed the fence, we did a line of sight [analysis] and elevation readings and the fence came out to be actually six feet below the top of the parking lot,” Mr. Mastropolo said. “So when a berm is installed in there, the berm is going to be below the elevation of the parking lot.”

He suggested the Planning Board re-examine the approved plans for The Shops at Riverhead to see if the elevations are correct.

“There’s too much disparity between what they say we have and what the prints show,” Mr. Mastropolo said.

Planning Board members said they would take a look at the information provided by Mr. Mastropolo, but made no promises about reopening the developers’ application.

“I haven’t been supplied with anything by Peter [Mastropolo], so it’s hard for me to comment on it,” Peter Danowski, an attorney for The Shops at Riverhead, later said. Mr. Danowski was not present at last Thursday’s Planning Board meeting, as the project was not on the agenda but was brought up by residents during the meeting’s public comment segment.

“We’re pretty comfortable that what we put on the approved site plan is what will get built and [once it’s built] will show the elevations approved by the Planning Board,” Mr. Danowski said. “I find it hard to believe the parking lot is going to be above the fence. We’ve always said that when we built this thing, it will be consistent with the plans that were approved.”

Mr. Danowski said plans for the 30-foot-wide buffer include eight- to 10-foot arborvitae and other trees, some of which will be planted atop a four-foot-high berm along the Foxwood property line.

He added that, should someone in the Foxwood community stand against and look over the fence, “they would never see anything, because we have a slope from the fence sloping downward with arborvitae and other landscaping that was approved in the buffer area,” Mr. Danowski said, “You couldn’t see beyond the arborvitae.”

Mary Lee Feldman, current president of the Foxwood Village Homeowners Association, asked the Planning Board to require the developer to replace the wooden fence that is there now with a sound wall, something Foxwood homeowners had also demanded at previous board meetings.

The current fence, she said, is not high enough or strong enough to protect the community from pollutants and noise.

And Diane Barba, who lives in the neighboring Millbrook community, just east of The Shops at Riverhead, mentioned that residents there are getting only a chain-link fence. However, existing trees on the Milbrook land already serve as a natural buffer to the cleared shopping center property.

“The noise is unbelievable” since the clearing took place, Ms. Barba said. “I feel like I’m back in the Bronx.”

Mr. Danowski said in an interview that he doesn’t foresee the developer reopening the application.

“We’re going to build the approved plan,” he said.

tgannon@timesreview.com

07/26/13 2:30pm
07/26/2013 2:30 PM

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Foxwood Village resident Barbara Ross speaks at Thursday night’s ZBA meeting against a proposal to install 25-foot lights in the adjacent shopping center.

Already angered residents of the Foxwood Village and Millbrook communities rallied Thursday night against a proposal for 25-foot light poles at the Shops at Riverhead shopping center.

Residents urged the Riverhead Zoning Board of Appeals to reject the developer’s request to have fewer, but taller, light poles at the complex, which is anchored by Costco. The residents were already irked by the developer’s clearing of trees up to their property lines.

Heritage Riverhead Retail, which is building Shops at Riverhead on the north side of Route 58, was seeking ZBA seeking variances to the Town Code requirement that light poles be no taller than 16 feet.

The applicant said the increased height would allow 60 percent fewer light poles to be installed.

“We would go from 165 poles to 61 if this request is granted,” said Peter Danowski, the attorney for the applicant.

The taller light poles are for aesthetics and safety, he said, because cars frequently crash into light poles when there are lots of them, he said.

Shops at Riverhead also sought a second variance to allow for more lighting than is permitted under the canopy covering the gas pumps at Gostco, which have already been approved. These would be LED lights, Mr. Danowski said, which are brighter and are intended to increase security at the pumps at night.

But neighbors said they don’t trust anything the applicant proposes, especially after the recent tree clearing, which extended all the way up the property line of homes in the southern part of Foxwood Village.

“When Mr. Danowski gets up and speaks about aesthetics, I quake in my shoes,” said Cliff Baldwin of Aquebogue, a member of the committee that drafted the town’s “dark skies” lighting requirements, from which Costco is seeking a variance.

“The poles are that height for a reason,” Mr. Baldwin said. “Extending them to 25 feet is not a good idea.”

Mr. Danowski said the Costco store and the gas pumps are at the southern end of the property, near Riverhead Auto Mall and “more than a football field away.” He said the lights would not affect the neighbors.

Shops at Riverhead also plans to build a 30-foot-wide vegetative buffer along the property line with Foxwood, where the trees had been cleared, he said.

The lights in the parking lot, he said, will comply with the “dark skies” legislation; only the lights under the gas canopy would not. Those lights will be aimed downward, not outward, he said.

The buffer, he said, will be similar to the one built by Foxwood Village about 10 years ago at the corner of Mill and Middle roads.

But residents argued that it will take years for the new trees the developer is planting now to grow large enough to buffer their homes.

“Many of us will be long since gone before it gets like that,” said Foxwood Village resident Robert Hall.

He believes the lights will affect neighboring homes.

Barbara Ross, whose Foxwood Village home is right up against the fence Costco built on the property line, said the trees in the proposed buffer will be eight feet apart, and won’t provide a real buffer. She said the fence the developer installed is transparent.

Ms. Ross said that since the trees were cleared, there’s more wind on her property.

“The trees blow like crazy now,” she said. “Any kind of storm and they’re going to be down on our houses.”

Other residents said noise from Route 58 and Riverhead Raceway is much louder now without the trees.

“We’re going to have a lot of light in the park,” said George Buckingham, manager of the Mill Brook Mobile Home Park, which borders the development on the east. He said they’ve already had increases in noise due to the construction work.

Mr. Hall pointed out that the proposed lighting doesn’t apply to a proposed second phase of the Shops at Riverhead project. The developer could build more on the property if they use transferred development rights from farmland, which the original proposal included, before it was scaled down a few years ago.

“Safety has never been a problem,” said Lynn Tyler of Foxwood Village. “But now that all the trees are down, it’s like, ‘Hey world, we’re here, we’re old, come and rob us.”

She and other speakers felt the real reason behind the request for taller poles is to save the developer money.

“Let’s not have the Town Board change all the rules to suit the money people,” she said.

“This request has nothing to do with aesthetics or safety, it has to do with profit,” said Mike Cuomo of Foxwood Village.

The ZBA opted to continue the hearing at its next meeting on Aug. 8.

tgannon@timesreview.com