11/07/13 10:30am
11/07/2013 10:30 AM
TIM GANNON PHOTO | The Town Hall meeting room during Wednesday's public hearing.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | The Town Hall meeting room during Wednesday’s public hearing.

First Baptist Church’s proposed Family Community Life Center received overwhelming support from speakers at a public hearing before the Riverhead Town Board on Wednesday, with backers of the project including representatives from heavyweights Riverhead Building Supply, Suffolk County National Bank, Peconic Bay Medical Center, Long Island Housing Partnership and NYSERDA.

A petition with more than 1,700 signatures in support of the project was also submitted.

But the president of the Riverhead school board, Ann Cotten DeGrasse, voiced opposition to the mixed-used project being tax exempt, though she said she supporting the overall concept of the plan.

Other speakers raised concerns that the language of the proposed overlay district — a crucial legislative compwould allow the plans to move forward and which was actually the topic of the public hearing — doesn’t include any requirements that a community center be built in conjunction with affordable housing.

If built as currently envisioned, the Family Community Life Center would include an Olympic-size indoor swimming pool, a 25-seat theater and media center, 24-hour adult and child day care services, an indoor walking track, gymnasium, fitness center, classroom space and 132 affordable apartment units intended as “workforce housing” for the area.

It would be located on the church’s 12-acre property on Northville Turnpike. First Baptist has been planning the project for more than 25 years.

Project planners added the housing component as a means of generating revenue to subsidize the rest of the on-site facilities.

Since no one existing zoning category in the town code permits all of the proposed uses on the same property, the town was asked to create a new zone for projects like this, and, with the help of First Baptist leaders, came up with a proposed overlay zone called the “community benefit” district.

The zone would allow a community center and workforce housing on land that meets certain criteria, including having 10 or more acres of land with at least 800 feet of frontage on a county or state highway as well as public water and sewer connections.

Wednesday’s public hearing was on the creation of such a district. In order for First Baptist’s property to have this district applied to it, another public hearing would be needed.

Speakers such as Edgar Goodale of Riverhead Building Supply, Demetrios Kadenas of Peconic Bay Medical Center, Larry Williams of the town’s recreation advisory committee, Roger Clayman of the Long Island Federation of Labor, and Jennifer Appel of the Long Island Housing Partnership said the area desperately needs the day care, elder care, recreation programs and affordable housing that the Family Community Life Center proposes to bring.

“Long Island is going through a revolution, in terms of whether we can keep up with the rest of the world,” said Theresa Sanders, the president and CEO of the Urban League of Long Island. “We are losing our young professionals. ”

She said many go to schools on Long Island and then leave the area because they can’t afford to live here. Ms. Sanders said the lack of elder care is another problem in the area.

“My mother has to go to work with me sometimes,” because there is no one to stay with her during the day, Ms. Sanders.

Jennifer Appel of the Long Island Housing Partnership, an affordable housing advocacy group, said there is a lack of multi-family and affordable housing in the area.

“A diversity of housing is necessary to allow this area of the community to thrive,” she said.

Ms. DeGrasse, the school board president, said the  board “is not opposed to the zoning change, the school board is not opposed to the Family Life Center, the school board is not opposed to workforce housing, the school board is opposed to it being tax exempt.”

She said that the district is constrained by the state-imposed two-percent budget cap and has lost about 50 teachers in the last three years. The district also was “surprised” by the enrollment of 200 more students this fall, she said, and added that it costs between $15,000 and $16,000 per child per year to educate a student in the Riverhead district.

“If you open workforce housing on tax exempt land, we don’t receive any taxes,” Ms. Cotten DeGrasse said.

Rev. Charles Coverdale, First Baptist’s pastor, has said the church land is already off the tax rolls, so the town won’t lose tax revenue. He said the church has offered to provide payments in lieu of taxes for police, fire and ambulance service at the First Community Life Center. He also has pointed out that Riverhead School Superintendent Nancy Carney spoke in support of the project on a video that was made about it, and which was shown at Wednesday’s Town Board meeting.

Dominique Mendez of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, a civic group, pointed out that the wording of the proposed overlay zone defines and permits a community center, but doesn’t require that one be built in conjunction with affordable housing.

She expressed concern that a developer could build the housing without the community center under the working of zoning.

Ms. Mendez and realtor Larry Oxman also said the town has to be careful that the zoning is not being written specifically for this project, which would be illegal, and that it apply to other areas in town.

Ms. Mendez said she has asked to see a list of other properties in town where the Community Benefit district could apply, and has not been provided with it yet.

Mr. Oxman said he supports the overall concept of the zone, but thinks the town needs to “tweak” it.

Board members closed the public hearing, but left it open for written comment through Nov. 14.

In addition to the zone change, the project also will need more than 100 development rights credits to be able to built 132 units of housing, since the current zoning on the property would only allow 12 units.

The proposed zoning would allow the density increase if the applicant uses transfer of development rights from farms or county affordable housing credits, which come from land purchased as open space.

The farmland credits for that many units would have to be purchased, at a price of more than $7 million, something Rev. Coverdale says is too expansion.

But the county open space credits, if awarded by the county, would come at no cost to the church, so long as the credits are used for affordable housing.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone recently pledged the county’s support for the project, although he did not specifically mention the open space credits.

tgannon@timesreview.com

09/27/13 5:00am
09/27/2013 5:00 AM
TIM GANNON PHOTO | Community Life Center supporters showed up at Town Hall Thursday.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Community Life Center supporters showed up at Town Hall Thursday.

A little-known Suffolk County program could serve as a life-line for the First Baptist Church’s long-proposed Family Community Life Center on Northville Turnpike.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | First Baptist Church on Northville Turnpike in Riverhead.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | First Baptist Church on Northville Turnpike in Riverhead.

That program, called the Suffolk County Workforce Housing Transfer of Development Rights program, would allow development rights taken off land that the county has purchased for open space preservation to be used, at no charge, to allow additional development on affordable or workforce housing programs that meet county guidelines for such housing.

Those guidelines include a requirement that 100 percent of proposed units be affordable, and that the units remain affordable. The program was created as part of a countywide voter-approved “Save Open Space” bond act in 2004.

The only other way the project could be approved as planned — under a draft zone change for the church property that the Town Board also discussed  at its work session on Thursday — would be for First Baptist to purchase millions of dollars in transferred development rights from farmland within town, something church leaders say they can’t afford.

The Family Community Life Center, which would be built on the church’s 12-acre Northville Turnpike campus, would include, among other things, a gym, indoor pool, fitness center, community center and 132 “workforce housing,” or affordable, apartment units.

The Town Board in the past has balked at creating new zoning that would allow the number of apartment units the church is seeking, which would amount to more than 10 per acre.

And the Long Island Farm Bureau had argued earlier this year that to allow that kind of building density increase without requiring the applicant to use transferred development rights purchased off farmland would circumvent the purpose of the TDR program, which was to preserve farms while higher density would be allowed in more suitable areas.

The TDR program allows developers to buy development rights from farms to increase the amount of commercial development they can build in areas like Route 58. The farms from which the credits came could only be used for farming once the development rights are purchased.

The farm bureau has maintained that the as-of-right density, in this case one unit per acre, should remain in place and any additional density should require the use of TDR.

In this case, in order to get 132 units, the Family Community Life Center developers would need to purchase 121 TDR credits, which at an average of $65,000 per credit, said to be an average for TDR rights, would come out to about $7.8 million.

“That will almost surely kill the project,” Cleveland Johnson Jr. of StrategicFundraising Inc., which is working with the church on the project, told the Riverhead Town Board earlier this year.

The Rev. Charles Coverdale, the pastor of the church, who has been planning the Family Community Life Center project on and off for almost 30 years, said this week that there’s no way the church can afford to buy that many TDR credits.

He said the church is hoping the county program can help.

The income from the apartments is meant to subsidize the other uses in the complex, Mr. Coverdale has said.

Meanwhile, the town is drafting a proposed Community Benefit Zoning Use District that would permit the project, but would also allow similar projects in other areas of the town that have 10 acres of land, at least 800 feet of frontage on a county or state highway, and public water and sewer connections.

The Town Board has tentatively planned a Nov. 6 hearing on the measure.

“The [Town Board's] biggest issue from my perspective is concerning the density of the dwelling units,” deputy town attorney Bill Duffy said in discussing a draft of the proposed zoning code at Thursday’s Town Board work session, where officials and representatives from the church discussed the issue and the room was filled with supporters of the project, none of whom spoke.

The draft zoning code maintains the property’s one unit per acre as-of-right zoning, but states that additional units could be built if the developer uses development credits from the town’s TDR program or the county’s Workforce Housing TDR program.

The county’s Workforce Housing TDR program would allow the project to use TDR credits from the county for free, according to both Guy Germano, the attorney for the church, and Rick Hanley, the town’s planning director.

Mr. Hanley acknowledged afterwards that he was not familiar with the county program before this week.

Councilman George Gabrielsen questioned how many credits the program had.

“Is that reality?” Mr. Gabrielsen asked of the plan to use the county program.

He also said afterward that he was not familiar with the program before this week.

Mr. Hanley said the county had an inventory of development rights taken from land within Riverhead Town which were purchased for open space, adding that the program has a land bank for development rights credits.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio expressed concern about the possibility of using development rights taken from open space purchases outside of Riverhead Town.

“It doesn’t make sense to take rights from property in another town,” she said.

Mr. Duffy said he was unsure if the county program identifies where the rights came from.

It was unclear how many credits from the county program would be needed  for one project as its envisioned.

Town Board members also said they planned to include buffering requirements in the proposed new zoning district, and informally agreed that a 25-foot minimum buffer should be required between any project and its neighboring properties.

“We’ve had the occasion to tick off some neighbors recently and we don’t want to do that anymore,” Supervisor Sean Walter said, alluding to the clear cutting of trees the town allowed at the Costco development on Route 58, which abuts two large residential communities.

The draft of the proposed Community Benefit Zoning Use District discussed Thursday also includes a requirement that at least 40 percent of the site be reserved for vegetated open space.

Permitted uses in the proposed zone would include residential uses, owner-occupied single-family dwelling units with attached professional offices; a Community Center, day or nursery school; recreational uses including parks and playgrounds, swimming pools and outdoor sports facilities; and houses of worship. The proposed zone requires a combination of the permitted residential and non-residential uses.

In addition, the proposed zone requires all facilities within the community center to be available to the general public and limits fees charged for use of those facilities to be limited to those necessary to defray expenses.

tgannon@timesreview.com

06/19/13 4:08pm
06/19/2013 4:08 PM
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Riverhead police inspect the scene of the crash Wednesday afternoon.

Riverhead police and fire crews closed Northville Turnpike Wednesday afternoon after a driver swerved off the road and smashed into a utility pole, injuring herself and leaving downed wires in the street.

The woman — whose identity was not released by police — was driving north in a Toyota Camry on Northville Turnpike between Elton Street and Fischel Avenue when she lost control of the car just before 3 p.m., police said.

The woman collided with a utility pole on the side of the road, spinning her car onto a nearby property, said Riverhead police Sgt. Ron Atkinson.

Riverhead ambulance crews were called to the scene to treat the woman, who didn’t suffer serious injuries in the crash, Sgt. Atkinson said.

Riverhead firefighters were also called to the scene to help free the woman from the wrecked car, but emergency volunteers were able to get her out without having to cut away the doors, fire officials said.

She was taken to Peconic Bay Medical Center for treatment, police said.

There were no passengers in the car.

The cause of the crash is under investigation, Sgt. Atkinson said.

Fire police closed Northville Turnpike between Elton Street and Fischel Avenue as the ruined car was towed from the scene and the wires were cleared from the road.

The road remained closed as of 4 p.m.

psquire@timesreview.com