08/16/13 8:00am
08/16/2013 8:00 AM

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | The site of the Knightland shopping center at the corner of Sound Avenue and Route 25A. Village Beverage has since moved.

The Riverhead Town Board appears ready to grant an excavation permit that will pave the way for the construction of Knightland, the controversial retail center planned for the intersection of Route 25A and Sound Avenue in Wading River.

Board members discussed the plan briefly at last Thursday’s work session and informally agreed to issue the permit at the upcoming Town Board meeting — despite the fact that there is still an active lawsuit challenging Knightland’s site plan approvals.

That suit is currently in the appellate division of the courts, after the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, which challenged the town’s initial approvals, appealed a state Supreme Court ruling dismissing their original case, according to town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz.

The courts have not issued any orders preventing the development from moving forward while the case is being appealed, and have rejected a request to issue one, he said.

“The risk, if there is any, is on [Knightland principal] Kenney Barra,” said Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter. “The litigants had applied for a temporary restraining order and were denied, so there is no prohibition against us issuing the permit, and the developer could actually go to court and force us to issue the permit.

“If the developer begins construction and then loses the lawsuit, then Kenney Barra has a problem.”

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | A model, presented in 2011, of the Knightland development planned for Wading River.

Peter Danowski, the attorney for Mr. Barra who’s been asking the town since March to issue an excavation permit for the project, said he didn’t think it was risky to proceed with the development while the appeal is still pending.

“It’s risky to invest in projects in an economy that’s not great, but these investments hopefully will increase the tax base in the town,” Mr. Danowski said.

Mr. Walter said he liked the site plan Mr. Barra has submitted and doesn’t think it will clear-cut all the trees on the parcel, as several developers have done recently on Route 58.

“Kenney Barra does a nice job with landscaping,” Mr. Walter said. “There’s a couple of pretty dense tree buffers proposed in several locations and there’s a natural tree buffer around Sound Avenue and he does a beautiful job of dressing up East Wind Caterers,” which Mr. Barra owns.

“When you’re driving along Sound Avenue, you don’t even notice that East Wind is there,” Mr. Walter said.

“When he does something, he does it right,” Councilman John Dunleavy said of Mr. Barra.

The triangular-shaped property for which the shopping center is proposed had been rented to a beverage store.

The Knightland plan calls for 32,500 square feet of retail space and a 4,900-square-foot restaurant in a complex comprising 24 small buildings.

Knightland LLC received site plan approval from the Riverhead Planning Board on Dec. 15, 2011. Members of the nonprofit Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition filed a lawsuit challenging that approval the following day.

The lawsuit claimed the project didn’t comply with the zoning for the property and that the town failed to consider the cumulative impacts of this project along with other development proposals in the area.

State Supreme Court Justice Hector LaSalle dismissed the case in April 2012 on the grounds that the nonprofit and the three residents who joined its lawsuit as individuals all lacked “standing” to bring the action and failed to show how they would be negatively affected by the development.

The Town Board declined to include Knightland in the Route 25A planning study it initiated two years ago because of the lawsuit.

“Once the Town Board refused to intervene and the Planning Board approved this tourist mall — despite state environmental law and the zoning — and then the litigation process became protracted, this clearing permit became fairly inevitable,” said RNPC president Dominique Mendez. “It’s how the process works and it works especially well for developers.

“I certainly hope that Mr. Barra does not tear down these woods without having first attained his financing and securing his tenants, otherwise all the community may be left with is a wide swath of stripped land at the start of the Sound Avenue historic rural corridor,” she said.

The Town Board recently made code revisions that require developers to obtain a building permit before a clearing permit can be issued. The changes were made after several town officials came under criticism when a handful of Route 58 developers got the OK to clear-cut land before acquiring building permits. Town planning and building administrator Jeff Murphree said the building permits for Knightland are ready to be issued. Mr. Walter said he anticipates the excavating and building permits will be issued simultaneously.

tgannon@timesreview.com

07/17/13 4:00pm
07/17/2013 4:00 PM
Sean Walter of Riverhead

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Supervisor Sean Walter (right) says elected officials should not serve on political parties’ executive committees.

Riverhead Town has a law in place prohibiting appointed members of boards such as the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals from serving on political parties’ executive committees.

But Supervisor Sean Walter says he plans to introduce legislation expanding that prohibition to include elected officials as well.

The supervisor unveiled his proposal at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting, when board members presented a plaque to Marge Acevedo for her 25 years on the Board of Assessment Review.

Ms. Acevedo stepped down from that board earlier this year after she was named chair of the Riverhead Democratic committee. Mr. Walter said Brookhaven Town already has a law prohibiting elected officials from holding positions on the executive boards of political party committees, such as committee chair or vice chair.

The only current elected official in Riverhead who would be affected by the proposal is assessor Mason Haas, who is vice chair of the town Republican committee and is expected to take over as chairman later this year.

Mr. Walter, also a Republican, said he plans to discuss his proposal with the Town Board at Thursday’s work session.

tgannon@timesreview.com

04/06/13 7:00am
04/06/2013 7:00 AM

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Bob Oleksiak of Baiting Hollow stands at the edge of his Silver Beech Lane property, about 90 feet from where Baiting Hollow Scout Camp officials are proposing to build a rope climbing course for youths.

Bob and Mary Oleksiak imagine that in the near future, the quiet and comfortable moments they’ve come to enjoy together in their backyard, which Ms. Oleksiak calls her “little piece of heaven,” will be interrupted by the constant noise of screaming kids.

Boy Scouts, to be exact.

The Oleksiaks and their immediate neighbors in Baiting Hollow are up in arms over plans to install a COPE (Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience) course at the adjacent Baiting Hollow Scout Camp off Sound Avenue, owned by the Suffolk County Boy Scouts. The neighbors insist the course structures should be placed somewhere else on the 90-acre camp property — not immediately behind their yards.

A COPE course is a series of rope and high-wire climbing challenges designed to meet Boy Scouts of American standards, according to the COPE Course website. The site says COPE programs are based on attaining seven goals outlined by the Boy Scouts of America: teamwork, communication, trust, leadership, decision making, problem solving and self-esteem.

At a recent Riverhead Town Planning Board meeting, Baiting Hollow camp director Jim Grimaldi described the proposed course as requiring the installation of twelve 35-foot-high telephone poles on property east of a pond called Fresh Pond. He said the location is in “the farthest east part of our property.”

He later told the News-Review it’s the only viable spot on the property for the course, considering the land is flat in that area.

But that puts it within sight of the neighbors, making for some contentious exchanges before an auger has even hit the ground.

“I tried to make an attempt at explaining to the neighbors what a COPE course was, but I don’t take well to being threatened and cursed at, so we stopped the conversation,” Mr. Grimaldi told the Planning Board.

For his part, Mr. Oleksiak denied that he ever cursed at Mr. Grimaldi, though he said in an interview that Mr. Grimaldi had called the police on him for trespassing during one of his regular strolls through the neighboring camp.

According to tax maps, six properties abut the camp land. Mr. Oleksiak said there are markers in place indicating where the course would go and that the markers are only about 99 feet from his backyard. The land is currently woods and some trees will have to be cut down to build the course.

“Why are they putting it here when they have so much land elsewhere that they could put it?” Mr. Oleksiak asked Friday. “This is going to affect 25 homes on Silver Beech Lane. All you’re going to hear is noise.”

“They’re taking away my little piece of heaven,” lamented Ms. Oleksiak, who is battling cancer.

“I can’t sell my home now because the taxes are too high; I’m paying $19,000 in taxes,” said Annmarie Schreiber, who would also have the course running along her backyard. “Now they are going to put a thing like this up and make it a commercial area? I’ll never be able to sell my house. Are they going to charge only $1,000 in taxes? Because that’s what the house is going to be worth.”

Other neighbors also complained to the News-Review.

“The Oleksiaks are going to be exposed to this in their backyard,” said George Bartunek, a former town councilman who lives in the area. “The opinion here is that this is something that could be placed elsewhere to keep it more distant from everybody in the neighborhood.”

The Planning Board has scheduled a hearing on the proposal, which also calls for construction of an archery pavilion farther east on the scout property, on Thursday, April 18, at 3 p.m.

Mr. Oleksiak said he is asking the town to change the hearing to a night meeting because many people can’t attend in the daytime.

The camp director said the land’s terrain is what’s dictating the proposed placement of the course.

“It’s a large piece of property and we’ve been there for a long time, this is our 87th year, but we don’t have a lot of flat property,” Mr. Grimaldi said in an interview Tuesday. “To do the course and to do it safely, you have to have some flat property. There is no other place for it.”

He said the state Department of Environmental Conservation is allowing the group to cut down up to six trees but is requiring them to plant four new trees for every one they cut down.

As for the neighbors’ concerns about noise, Mr. Grimaldi said the COPE course will generally be used by only about a dozen scouts, and maybe two instructors, at a time.

“It’s meant for small groups,” he said. “It’s not like you’re building a football field or something like that.”

Mr. Grimaldi said the tallest pole is 35 feet and no poles are taller than the trees, so the course will blend in with its surroundings.

“You will have to look for it and know that it’s there in order to find it,” he said. “It’s in the middle of the trees and it’s a dozen telephone poles with wires hanging in between them and challenges hanging on those wires.”

He also promised there would be at least a 100-foot buffer between anything the camp builds and the nearest property line, not the 90 feet Mr. Oleksiak counted.

Mr. Oleksiak and his neighbors are also concerned about how the course would be secured when it’s not in use, and whether camp officials plan to build a fence or have lights or surveillance around the course.

Mr. Grimaldi explained to the News-Review that ladders are used to get to the elements of the course and that when the course is not in use, the ladders are not there and there is no way to access the various climbing elements, as they are called.

“There is nothing you can climb on from the ground,” he said.

The Boy Scouts also plan to bring local schools or youth groups to the site, Mr. Grimaldi said, though in those cases a Boy Scouts representative will always be on hand to supervise activity.

“We will always be running the course,” he said. “When we are not there and we’re not running the course, there is no way to access it.”

An archery pavilion is also planned for the property, which involves building an open-air roof over an existing archery range toward the west part of the scout property.

“The fact that the camp has existed for 87 years and we’ve really been free of complaints from our neighbors for 87 years … that record, in itself, should stand for something,” Mr. Grimaldi said. “I think we’ve been pretty good neighbors for 87 years and we’ll continue to be good neighbors for the next 87 years.”

tgannon@timesreview.com

02/21/13 5:06pm
02/21/2013 5:06 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The Riverhead Charter School on Route 25 in Calverton.

The Riverhead Town Planning Board approved a proposed two-story, 49,000-square-foot building for the Riverhead Charter School Thursday.

The new school, located to the south of the 5.8-acre property on Route 25 in Calverton, will replace an existing 8,000-square-foot modular school building that the school has been using on an interim basis for several years.

The Planning Board also approved 1998 Peconic LLC’s proposal to build a 17,000-square-foot building on a lot immediately southwest of the charter school property.

At a Feb. 7 public hearing on the charter school expansion, Keith Brown, an attorney for 1998 Peconic LLC, raised concerns about children from the school wandering onto his client’s industrial property.

“We don’t want to be liable if, God forbid, any child goes from that (charter school) property to a property with industrial purposes,” Mr. Brown said at the time.

The charter school agreed to put up a fence separating the two properties. The school agreed to pay for 75 percent of the cost while 1998 Peconic pays the remaining 25 percent.

Headed by Paul Elliot and Jim Miller, 1998 Peconic — a real estate development company — also owns the property west of the charter school where a gas station and convenience store are located. It also owns the vacant property just south of the Cinco de Mayo restaurant, on which it received approval for a drive-through pharmacy and a bank last year, neither of which has been built.

The Planning Board approval also gives the charter school an extension on the use of the modular building on a temporary basis until July 15, 2015. The school had received several prior extensions for the use of the modular building, with the most recent one slated to expire on July 15, 2013.

The charter school currently goes from kindergarten to sixth grade, and it hopes to add seventh and eighth grades with the new, larger building.

The additional grades, which require approval from the state Board of Regents, would expand the school’s maximum enrollment to 400 students. It currently has about 275 now, according to officials.

tgannon@timesreview.com

02/13/13 5:00pm
02/13/2013 5:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Traffic along Route 25A in Wading River.

Two civil lawsuits were filed this week challenging Riverhead Town’s rezoning of Wading River properties that was based on recommendations in a Route 25A corridor study adopted last year.

The lawsuits were filed by the owners of two of the three large parcels that were rezoned.

One property is a vacant six-acre parcel on the south side of Route 25A owned by Knightland Inc., a company headed by East Wind Caterers’ owner, Kenney Barra.

The other is an 11-acre parcel owned by Constance Partridge, Maryann Stajk, and Kathleen Condzella.

The Knightland property has a site plan approval from the Town Board dating from November 2002 for a 50-room country inn with a 100-seat restaurant. In October 2012, The Town Board voted to change the zoning on that property from business CR to “multi-family residential/professional office,” (MFRP) a category that would permit neither the country inn nor the restaurant.

Owners of the Partridge-Stajk-Condzella property, also rezoned from business CR to MFRP in October 2012, had filed a site plan application on Dec. 5, 2011, for a commercial shopping center. That use would also not be permitted under the new zoning.

The town initiated the Wading River Corridor Study in July 2011, and it was completed in draft form a year later.

Both lawsuits were filed by the same attorney, John Wagner, and they contain similar language and claims.

The zoning changes “were not adopted in the interest of the public health, safety, or welfare, or based on valid zoning or planning interests, but were improperly, illegally and unconstitutionally designed and intended to halt the processing and approval of several pending development applications that were in conformance with subsisting zoning,” the lawsuits claim.

The property owners also claim the town’s actions were done to “appease individuals and civic groups opposed to development of privately-owned lands in accordance with subsisting zoning classifications and regulations.”

Supervisor Sean Walter declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuits, and Mr. Wagner could not be reached for comment.

The third large property rezoned as a result of the Corridor Study is a 5.6 acre farm owned by John Condzella and located between the other two parcels.

At a public hearing, Mr. Condzella supported the zone change, saying that having commercial development next door would make it difficult to farm.

The two lawsuits filed this week also claim that there were defects in the town’s approval of its 2003 master plan, a claim made in several other lawsuits still pending between Riverhead Town and landowners.

In addition to the property involved in the recent lawsuit, Knightland Inc. owns another parcel to the east, near the intersection of 25A and Sound Avenue. That property was not included in the Route 25A study because civic groups had sued the town over Planning Board approvals for a commercial project.

That suit was thrown out of state Supreme Court in January 2012.

tgannon@timesreview.com

10/18/12 8:56pm
10/18/2012 8:56 PM
Riverhead, Concordia, Mill Road, Home Depot

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.

tgannon@timesreview.com

10/18/12 3:00pm

Representatives of seven civic and environmental groups asked Town Board members Tuesday night to make changes to the way it appoints people to the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, including setting minimum qualifications for appointment to those boards and holding public interviews of potential appointees.

Town Board members said they liked the idea of minimum requirements, but not the public interviews.

The groups asked that appointees have at least two years’ experience in land use issues. They suggested the qualifications include, but not be limited to, experience as a planner, architect, engineer, former official, civic leader or environmentalist.

As for the public interview, Mr. Walter said, “I don’t think it’s proper when interviewing someone for a job to subject them to a public interview.” Candidates are likely to act differently in public and on camera than in private, he added.

“It’s a personnel matter and shouldn’t be public,” Councilman John Dunleavy said.

tgannon@timesreview.com

10/05/12 10:00am
10/05/2012 10:00 AM
Dick's, Route 58, Riverhead

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | The Dick’s Sporting Good store in Lake Grove.

At the insistence of residents at the adjacent Glenwood Village senior citizen community, the developers of a proposed  122,000-square-foot shopping center on the south side of Route 58 have agreed to build a sound wall to block noise from disturbing residents.

Meanwhile, on the north side of Route 58, the Planning Board on Thursday voted to approve the site plan for The Shops at Riverhead, a proposed 271,000-square-foot shopping center on the former Hazeltine property just east of Riverhead Auto Mall that will include a Costco as its anchor tenant, along with a gas fueling station affiliated with the Costco.

The applicant on the south side of Route 58, Saber Riverhead LLC of Armonk, is planning to build on 13 acres just east of Riverhead Raceway.

Proposed tenants for the shopping center include Dick’s Sporting Goods, Christmas Tree Shops store, an ALDI discount supermarket, Five Below store, Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant, and Starbucks, according to Rick Decola, a representative for the applicant.

At a Planning Board work session two weeks ago, residents of Glenwood Village, which is immediately south of the proposed shopping center, expressed concerns about noise, saying they felt the applicant’s proposed landscaped berm wouldn’t be enough.

They said they already put up with noise from loading docks at the the Stop and Shop supermarket that was built a few years ago.

On Thursday, Glenwood Village manager Brian Stark addressed the Planning Board, and about six Glenwood residents were in attendance.

Mr. Stark said he was just looking after his residents.

“Remember, at the end of the day, you don’t live there, I don’t live there, but somebody’s grandmother lives there,” Mr. Stark told the applicant.

“There’s 600 homes there, we’re all in the final stages of our lives, we just want to be peaceful,” said Glenwood resident Chris Zimmermann. “We’re looking for quiet.”

Mr. Zimmermann said the trees that buffer Glenwood from Riverhead Raceway do little to block the noise.

“We’re trying to accommodate every little thing,” Mr. Decola said.

At the start of the discussion, Mr. Stark had suggested moving some of the buildings proposed in the shopping center, which Mr. Decola said would be a major undertaking. Saber Riverhead had met with Mr. Stark earlier in the week and proposed to move the loading dock from the area of the planned Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant, which is close to homes.

The Planning Board and the Glenwood residents urged the applicant to instead put up a sound wall, which they eventually agreed with.

The wall would cover a 200 foot stretch on the east part of Saber’s property, where there are about four homes.

It would made of wood, like the ones on the Long Island Expressway, but nicer looking, and would be about 10 to 12 feet high, according to Charles Cuddy, the attorney for the applicant.

The Planning Board took no formal action to approve or deny the application at Thursday’s meeting.

The Saber Riverhead shopping center would be directly across the street from The Shops at Riverhead and their entrances would share a traffic signal, which would still have to be built.

The only comment on The Shops of Riverhead proposal came from Robert Hall, who lives in the Foxwood Village senior community to the north of the proposed shopping center.

He said there are a lot of deer and other animals in the woods that are slated to be cleared for the shopping center, and suggested the developer first construct a fence along Foxwood’s property before beginning clearing of the woods so the animals don’t all come on Foxwood’s property.

The Planning Board and the applicant agreed with that suggestion.

tgannon@timesreview.com

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Christmas Tree Shops is also part of the plan for this Route 58 land.