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.