10/29/14 8:00am
10/29/2014 8:00 AM
(Credit: Tim Gannon)

The former Rolle Brothers Farm Equipment property in Riverhead. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

A proposed 38,204-square-foot shopping center on the site of the former Rolle Brothers Farm Equipment property on Route 58 received re-approvals last week from the Zoning Board of Appeals for some variances it originally received two years ago.

(more…)

01/24/14 7:00am
01/24/2014 7:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead’s town code enforcement recently issued a notice of violation to Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons in Jamesport.

You don’t have to be a 5,000-square-foot farm market for Riverhead Town to cite you for violating town code. In fact, your main draw could be as small as a hummingbird or box turtle.

While Riverhead Town Board members recently split on their decision to take the owners of a Jamesport farm stand to court, Riverhead Town’s code enforcement unit recently issued notices of violation to The Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary and Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons in Jamesport because neither operation is a permitted use under the zoning of the property where it’s located, according to Riverhead town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz, who is in charge of the code enforcement unit.

Supervisor Sean Walter said he couldn’t speak about specifics of the enforcement actions, but echoed Mr. Kozakiewicz’ sentiments.

“It’s not our intention to chase away the hummingbirds or the turtles. We just need people to come into compliance,” Mr. Walter said.

Mr. Kozakiewicz said the turtle rescue organization has been issued a summons in town Justice Court because it is not a permitted use in the Agriculture Protection Zone in which it’s located.

As for the hummingbird sanctuary, Mr. Kozakiewicz said a notice of violation was issued in order to cover the town in the event neighbors of the sanctuary filed a lawsuit, which they have since done.

The notice of violation states that operation of a hummingbird sanctuary that is open to the public is a prohibited use, and that continuing that use would require a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals as well as site plan approval from the Planning Board. It further states that if no remedy to the violation is made before Jan. 18, the town may follow through with legal action, though Mr. Kozakiewicz said he does not intend to and the town has not issued a summons to the hummingbird sanctuary.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said she was surprised to hear that the town had taken any action at all against the organizations.

“Are you kidding me?” she said when told of the enforcement actions. “We have overcrowded houses all throughout this town and code enforcement is writing tickets to the hummingbird guy?”

Ms. Giglio said she was unaware of the notices issued to the Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary, run by Paul Adams on his property on Sound Avenue, and Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons, run by Karen Testa Lombardo from a home on Manor Lane in Jamesport.

Mr. Adams has run the sanctuary for more than a dozen years at his Sound Avenue property , which overlooks Long Island Sound and where he has planted flowers that attract hummingbirds. The sanctuary is open to the public only during the month of August and, according to the orgnization’s website, does not accept donations or an admission fee. Mr. Adams requires visitors to sign a waiver.

Nonetheless, a group of neighbors living along the road leading to the property have recently filed a lawsuit against Mr. Adams and the hummingbird sanctuary.

The lawsuit was filed by Frederick and Debra Terry, Kamal and Sabita Bherwani, and Shawn Hamilton against Paul and Rafael Adams.

Mr. Adams said they are seeking to have the sanctuary closed and they are seeking $3 million in damages. The lawsuit, filed Dec. 23, was not on file at the county center as of Tuesday morning, except for the summary page identifying the litigants. Anthony Tohill, the plaintiffs’ attorney, did not return a call seeking comment and Mr. Terry could not be reached for comment by presstime.

Mr. Adams said the lawsuit raises two key questions: “Does the town code permit me to maintain my property in a natural state as a bird sanctuary? And does the code permit me to receive invited visitors at my residence there, via the established, deeded and surveyed right of way from Sound Avenue?”

He believes the answer to both questions is yes.

As for the turtle rescue, Charles Cuddy, the attorney for Ms. Lombardo, said she brings turtles to the site that have been injured and need to be rehabilitated. She is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator and her work is recognized and endorsed by the state, Mr. Cuddy said, adding that she does all the work as a volunteer and receives no money for it.

There are usually about a dozen turtles on the property at any one time, he said, and she has other volunteers who help.

When a report of an injured turtle comes in, Ms. Lombardo goes out and brings it back to the Manor Lane house.

“The rehabilitation consists of medicating the turtles. It doesn’t consist of her conducting any surgery,” Mr. Cuddy said at a June 27 town Zoning Board of Appeals hearing on the turtle rescue operation. Turtles that need surgery are taken to a veterinarian, he said.

“She keeps turtles that are essentially without any odor, without any noise. They don’t do anything to the neighborhood,” Mr. Cuddy said. “They are without any impact that I can see, and I’ve been there many times.”

Mr. Cuddy said there are many wildlife rehabilitators in the state and many of them operate out of homes.

The turtle rescue had gone before the town Zoning Board of Appeals last year seeking an interpretation as to whether a such an operation can be considered an accessory use.

There was one hearing, during which no one raised any opposition to the operation, and the ZBA application was withdrawn a few weeks later. ZBA members had indicated they wanted to inspect the facility.

Mr. Cuddy said it was withdrawn because one ZBA member, whom he didn’t identify, had indicated that he or she would not support the application.

Mr. Kozakiewicz said he is not aware of any complaints from neighbors about the turtle rescue operation. Mr. Cuddy said one person has complained about it.

The Justice Court case against the turtle rescue is still pending, Mr. Kozakiewicz said.

tgannon@timesreview.com

01/23/14 9:00am
01/23/2014 9:00 AM
Calverton EPCAL sign

MICHAEL WHITE FILE PHOTO | One of two signs marking the EPCAL entrance along Route 25 in Calverton.

Political science students, take note: Once again, the Zoning Board of Appeals will rule this week on an application of long-term importance to Riverhead and the surrounding areas. Town Board members regularly get lots of visibility, but it’s worth reminding readers and residents that Thursday night’s decision on plans for a 34-acre substance abuse research campus will truly shape the future of the Enterprise Park at Calverton. The ZBA should support the application. (more…)

11/15/13 1:51pm
11/15/2013 1:51 PM
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Attorney Vincent Messina (right) speaks to the Riverhead ZBA with researcher

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Attorney Vincent Messina (right) speaks to the Riverhead ZBA with researcher Stephen Dewey on behalf of a proposed addiction facility in Calverton.

Supporters of a multi-million dollar addiction research and treatment facility being proposed for private property at the Enterprise Park at Calverton spoke in support of the project before the Riverhead Board of Zoning Appeals Thursday night.

The group of researchers, doctors, and scientists that attended the meeting said the center offers a unique opportunity to not only treat those suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, but also develop more effective methods of treatment faster.

Among those supporters was Stephen Dewey, who said he’s studie the science of addiction for more than three decades.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | A concept map of the facility shows the layout of where patients would sleep on site.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | A concept map of the facility shows the layout of where patients would sleep on site.

“What you have before you is kind of a lifelong dream,” Mr. Dewey said. ”If I could design a center, after 30 years of experience, I’d design a center just like this.”

The Calverton Addiction Research Education: New York, or CARE: NY, facility would feature a 34-acre campus and include 41,000 square feet of housing, 20,000 square feet of offices and 15,000 square feet of indoor recreation like a gymnasium and a pool, project officials said.

It’s proposed for property currently owned by Jan Burman, just north of River Road and just west of Connecticut Avenue.

The facility would have a maximum of 130 beds for volunteers looking to get treatment, said attorney Vincent Messina of Central Islip, who spoke on behalf of the center’s founders. Patients would stay at the facility for up to 120 days and would pay for treatment privately, though Mr. Messina said new federal regulations may allow insurance to cover the costs.

Mr. Messina assured the board that the center would not be part of the criminal justice system, saying the goal of the facility is to research and make breakthroughs in the treatment of addiction — not serve as a way for convicts to get reduced sentences.

The facility would cost roughly $10 million to build, and Mr. Messina told the board the project was expected to lose money in its first few years. He said the facility would not use the nonprofit status of any companies operating in the center to get tax breaks.

Mr. Messina promised that if a nonprofit were required by law to get a tax exemption, the owners of the center would pay the difference in price to ensure that no tax revenues are lost.

The attorney told the board that 64 percent of the facility was already covered under “as of right” use in the zoning code.

The center would need zoning exemptions made mainly for the housing component of the research facility.

Mr. Dewey told the board that more children and young adults will die on Long Island this year from opiate abuse than from alcohol abuse.

ZBA chairman Fred McLaughlin acknowledged the need for more addiction treatment.

“The opiates are just out of control,” he said.

Andrew Drazan, the facility’s founder and CEO, told the board there is “so much more to learn” in the field of addiction treatment.

Mr. Drazan said he was inspired to build the facility by his own experiences at a young age; his mother died due to addiction when he was a child, he previously told the News-Review.

He told the board that there has been a shift in the approach to addiction and addiction treatment.

“[This is] no longer looked at as moral failing,” he said. “It’s considered a disease and it’s going to be treated as such.”

The ZBA adjourned the center’s request to the Dec. 12 meeting.

psquire@timesreview.com

Read more in the Nov. 21 edition of the Riverhead News-Review.

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

09/12/13 8:16pm
09/12/2013 8:16 PM
TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO  |  The fence that runs along Foxwood Village and the Shops at Riverhead property lines.

FILE PHOTO | The fence that runs along Foxwood Village and the Costco property line.

After much public opposition, the other half of The Shops at Riverhead developer’s request for variances to Riverhead’s lighting regulations was denied Thursday night by the Zoning Board of Appeals, which had rejected the first half of that application two weeks ago.

The developers of the proposed shopping center, which will feature a Costco Warehouse store with gas pumps in front of it, were previously denied in their request for variances from the town’s “dark skies” lighting code in which they sought permission to install lights in the shopping center parking lot that were 25 feet high instead of the permitted 16 feet.

The applicants said the shopping center would only need 61 light poles instead of 165, if the variance were granted.

Residents from the adjacent Foxwood Village and Millbrook communities, already angry about The Shops at Riverhead having clear-cut all the trees on its property right up to the neighboring property lines, turned out in force at several meetings to urge the ZBA to reject the lighting variance, which the ZBA did at their its meeting.

The other half of the ZBA variance request, which was not rejected at the last meeting and was instead held over to Thursday night’s meeting, called for more lighting than is permitted under the canopy covering the planned gas pumps at Costco.

The pumps have already been approved.

The proposed lights would be LED lights, which are brighter and were intended to increase security at the pumps at night, according to Peter Danowski, the attorney for the applicant.

While that request didn’t meet as much opposition as the request for the taller — thus brighter — light poles did, it still met with some opposition, and on Thursday, the ZBA unanimously voted it down.

Fred McLaughlin, the chairman of the ZBA, assured the large crowd of Foxwood and Millbrook residents who were in attendance Thursday that their concerns had been heard, and that issues that have been brought up, like dust from the construction site, were issues for other town agencies to take up.

As a result, no one other than the applicant spoke, and the ZBA went straight to the vote on the request.

tgannon@timesreview.com

08/03/13 8:00am
08/03/2013 8:00 AM
Riverhead ZBA

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Riverhead ZBA members at a Jan. 24 meeting in Town Hall.

Larry Simms

Larry Simms

Attorney Pete Danowski didn’t ask for my help. We’re not friends; we’re not enemies. I write neither to criticize, nor to praise, his behavior.

Discussion of Danowski’s role in Riverhead development is a huge distraction from the real problems. People often view him as the bad guy when things go wrong; I couldn’t disagree more. To me, he’s both predictable and irrelevant.

Every town has its Danowskis. If Pete left Riverhead tomorrow, others would rush to fill the void, cultivating relationships with people on planning and zoning boards and with staff in building and planning departments. (Yes, this makes for choppy ethical waters.)

Danowski’s job is to advocate for his clients’ interests, and he’s clearly good at it. Sadly, Riverhead taxpayers lack advocates of their own. Developers have deep pockets for hired guns to get permits and variances; concerned citizens typically can’t afford attorneys.

That would be OK if town staff and appointed board members were appropriately skeptical, recognizing that most things Danowski’s clients want are inherently not in the town’s best interest. But our representatives are far too deferential; they rarely mount a challenge.

At a recent ZBA hearing on Costco lighting, Danowski claimed fewer, taller poles would deliver improved aesthetics and fewer cars bumping into lights. The discussion was anecdotal and subjective, lacking any data on lighting performance. He didn’t offer, and no ZBA member asked about, lumen output, footcandle distribution, cutoff angles, glare, color temperature or efficiency — all things you’d want to know to make an educated decision on a lighting code variance (or, if you live next door).

Why didn’t these facts matter? Is anyone gullible enough to believe the developer’s goal is improved aesthetics, or that light pole accidents are a real problem? And why did no one ask the obvious: How much money would the builder save by eliminating two-thirds of the poles?

Danowski said gas pump lights need to be brighter “for security;” ZBA members didn’t ask how other stations manage with lights that comply with code and “dark skies” rules. He also said, “LED lights are brighter,” which is simply false; LED fixtures can deliver any desired lighting level.

The same process played out with far greater consequences when Danowski argued that his client would be doing the town a favor by clearing the entire Costco site. No one objectively reviewed the pros and cons of this proposal or did any sort of cost-benefit analysis. The Planning Board was quick to accept the developer’s assertions that less truck traffic during construction was worth losing 11 acres of forest, forever. Planning Board chairman Richard O’Dea apparently believed the developer’s stated reason: “We don’t want to disturb the neighbors twice.” Really?

Separately, in addition to saving the developer millions, this decision cost the town $374,000 in fees on imported fill.  Why is that OK?  Why did Planning Board members and staff fail to mention it?

Still worse is the brazen way in which Town Board members are laying blame elsewhere. Sean Walter said: “I am very unhappy that these shopping centers clear-cut these sites, and I’m a little surprised that the Planning Board let them do it.” That remark alone should cost him the election.

It’s a “fail” on two levels. First, the Town Board handpicks Planning Board members; by their appointments, they bear major responsibility for clear-cutting. Further, as Walter once said: “In my world, we’re the elected officials, but when we ask the Planning Board to do something, we sort of expect them to do it, because we’re the ones people vote in.”

There have been warnings about the dangers of packing boards with cronies who are unqualified and/or have political agendas. (See here and here.)

With the Costco actions and many more, we now reap what Town Board members have sown.

Second, no Town Board member has apologized for issuing a land clearing permit, without which the developer couldn’t take the “wood” out of Foxwood. That vote was 4-0, and one council member was quite enthused: “We waited a long time and I vote yes.”

That the permit was issued two weeks before the Planning Board “findings” vote makes it even more disturbing that Town Board members blame others for the excess clear-cutting.

Their recently proposed new tree-saving law is as ludicrous as it is transparent. In trying to divert attention from the Costco debacle they caused, Town Board members ignore the fact that zoning and planning boards could neuter any such law, one project at a time.

A hero in this mess deserves to be recognized. Planning Board member Joe Baier voted “no,” and for the right reasons: He saw clear-cutting 11 acres with no plan to build anything as a raw deal. We desperately need more planning and zoning board members inclined to objective analysis and independent thought.

No incumbent Town Board member is likely to make such appointments. Voters should remember that these zoning and planning choices have a more profound impact on Riverhead’s future than anything else our elected officials do. This November, the odds are high that any candidate not presently serving on the Town Board will improve it.

Larry Simms owns a home in South Jamesport, is a principal in a firm that licenses commercial flooring technology and is active in savemainroad.org, an advocacy group dedicated to preserving the character of the Main Road corridor and surrounding areas.

04/18/13 1:00pm
04/18/2013 1:00 PM
TIM GANNON PHOTO |  Steve Scerri, vice president of New Beginnings Community Center in Medford,  urges the Riverhead ZBA to approve the group's proposal to build a home for people with traumatic brain injuries on Sound Avenue.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Steve Scerri, vice president of New Beginnings Community Center in Medford, urges the Riverhead ZBA to approve the group’s proposal to build a home for people with traumatic brain injuries on Sound Avenue.

Representatives of a nonprofit organization planning to open a group home in Riverhead for victims of traumatic brain injuries appeared before the town Zoning Board of Appeals last week.

New Beginnings Community Center, which is raising money to renovate a vacant Sound Avenue house that had been donated to the nonprofit, needs an interpretation from the ZBA on whether the long-term care facility is a permitted use. The town code doesn’t make any mention of such facilities.

ZBA members, rightfully, had some questions on the application, and are planning to undertake a fact-finding mission to learn more about the property, how it’s been used in the past, and whether a secondary structure on the land is suitable as a residence for a “house mother.” That person would live on-site and serve as backup to the trained aides who will be hired to care for medically dependent residents.

There is a true need for such a facility in town — and similar facilities across Long Island. One need look no further than the circumstances of Nancy Reyer of Riverhead and her son, Michael Hubbard, who suffered brain damage after a gel candle explosion in May 2011.

Since then, Michael, who needs constant care, has been living at Blythedale Children’s Hospital upstate because there are no large facilities on Long Island for medically dependent children or young adults. All large assisted living facilities in our area are only for the elderly.

So nonprofit groups such as Angela’s House — which runs three facilities for medically frail children in Suffolk — and New Beginnings of Medford have stepped in to fill the void. New Beginnings has already promised space for Michael, should the facility get up and running.

Riverhead ZBA attorney Scott DeSimone and ZBA members are not to be vilified for requesting more information and asking that the nonprofit representatives come back April 25. That’s their responsibility.

But it’s hard to imagine the board ever finding anything of substance to preclude New Beginnings from building its facility, so ZBA members should be cautioned against getting caught up in nit-picking and minutia, as government boards and attorneys are wont to do. As New Beginnings deals with the town and its local laws, fundraising efforts are underway to purchase pricey medical equipment and staff the facility, while also renovating the house. These efforts have already been slowed by Hurricane Sandy and subsequent winter storms. If potential donors come to believe the group might be having trouble with the town, and building plans stall, they might be reluctant to open their hearts and their wallets.

The ZBA and, moving forward, other town departments and officials should make it a priority to facilitate all dealings with New Beginnings — and get things moving. Every day accident victims like Michael Hubbard have to live away from loved ones is regrettable.