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.

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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.

03/23/13 4:00pm
03/23/2013 4:00 PM
Mattituck Starbucks

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A customer enters Starbucks in Mattituck Tuesday morning.

Riverhead Town is getting a second Starbucks.

But instead of being buried hundreds of yards in the armpit of Tanger 2, as the existing one is, it will be right along Route 58.

And, it will offer drive-through service.

The Riverhead Town Zoning Board of Appeals has approved a town code interpretation that will allow the proposed location to have a drive-through window, so people can get coffee without getting out of their cars.

The new Starbucks is planned for the Saber Riverhead shopping center, just east of River-head Raceway. The 122,000-square-foot shopping center, which is currently under construction, will also include a Dick’s Sporting Goods, Christmas Tree Shops, ALDI discount supermarket, Five Below store, Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant, according to the applicant, Martin Berger.

The complex received site plan approval from the town Planning Board in October, and the Town Board granted an excavating permit earlier this year. Excavation work has commenced.

“Starbucks’ new prototype is to have drive-through windows,” said Charles Cuddy, the applicant’s attorney. The proposed drive-through window will not exit onto Route 58, but will instead exit within the shopping center parking lot, he said.

The question before the ZBA last Thursday was whether a drive-through window was a use that is “customarily incidental” to a Starbucks restaurant in the Business Center zone in which the 13-acre Saber Riverhead project is located.

The application refers to Starbucks, which sells food and coffee, as a restaurant, although both restaurants and cafes are permitted uses in the BC zone. The BC zone also specifies drive-through windows for banks and pharmacies as permitted accessory uses.

Mr. Cuddy came to last Thursday’s ZBA meeting armed with a three-page memo and three Starbucks’ representatives to support his argument that a drive-through window should be considered accessory to a Starbucks restaurant. He said there are some zones in the town code that specifically prohibit drive-through windows, such as in downtown Riverhead, but that the BC zone is not one of them.

But Mr. Cuddy didn’t even need to make his argument.

“We really don’t have any issues with this,” ZBA chairman Fred McLaughlin said as Mr. Cuddy was about to have a Starbucks’ representative testify.

Scott DiSimone, the ZBA’s attorney, agreed.

“Fifteen years ago, the question was, similarly, was a convenience store an accessory use to a gas station?” Mr. DiSimone said. “That’s now become commonplace. I would say that’s a similar situation with Starbucks and other similar types of businesses in that use [drive-through windows]. I believe it to be a customary, incidental accessory use.”

The ZBA unanimously approved the code interpretation.

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03/21/13 3:30pm
03/21/2013 3:30 PM
Donuts in Riverhead

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The Dunkin’ Donuts concession opened last week in the Hess gas station just west of Tanger Outlets on Route 58. All products are made in the Dunkin’ Donuts at Route 58 and Roanoke Avenue.

Route 58 ‘Runs on Dunkin,’ it would seem.

Dunkin' Donuts in Riverhead

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The BP station on Route 58 is expanding to include a Dunkin’ Donuts.

In addition to the Dunkin’ Donuts/Baskin’ Robbins store that’s been on Route 58 for years in the shopping center by the Roanoke Avenue traffic circle, two new Dunkin’ Donuts stores gained approvals from town officials over the past week.

The Riverhead Zoning Board of Appeals last Thursday approved Atlantis Management Group’s request to expand the BP gas station on the northwest corner of Route 58 and Osborn Avenue to build a new convenience store and two new gas pumps and canopies.

The new convenience store will have a Dunkin’ Donuts shop in it, but there will be no seating, according to Keith Brown, the applicant’s attorney. Atlantis Management Group is proposing a 1,025-square-foot addition to the 1,625-square-foot building that is there now.

This gas station has been around since 1940, he said, and formerly had service bays for car repairs.

The business no longer repairs cars.

“Gas stations and the entire gas retailing industry is undergoing a change in its business model,” Mr. Brown told the ZBA last week. “No longer is it capable of supporting a repairman to use the service bays. The service bays are very difficult to rent because there just aren’t servicemen working out of service bays at local gas stations anymore.

Dunkin Donuts in Riverhead

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The Dunkin’ Donuts shop at Route 58 and Roanoke Avenue in Riverhead.

“The cost of the computer equipment needed to do the repairs is prohibitive, and most people are using dealerships to have their cars repaired. Quite frankly, statistics show that cars are lasting longer without repairs.”

The ZBA last Thursday also approved a series of variances for the Hess gas station near Tanger Outlets that allows it to have a freestanding sign to identify the Dunkin’s Donuts Express counter that opened last week in the station’s convenience store.

The sign also will identify as well the gas station and gas prices. The sign was permitted to be 22-feet high, instead of the 15 feet maximum permitted in the town code.

The ZBA unanimously approved both Dunkin’ Donuts proposals.

Atlantis Management Group will still need to come back to the ZBA for a variance for the Dunkin’ Donuts sign, and will need a special permit from the Town Board to expand the existing use, which doesn’t comply with zoning but is permitted because it existed before the town even had zoning.

“I don’t see any down side to this,” Supervisor Sean Walter said when the Town Board reviewed the application at Thursday morning’s work session.

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10/18/12 3:00pm
10/18/2012 3:00 PM

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.

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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.

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

09/21/12 10:00am
09/21/2012 10:00 AM
Dick's, Route 58, Riverhead

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

Some residents of Glenwood Village are concerned that a new shopping center proposed by their homes may create a noise problem.

But the building’s applicant says the developers plan to build a berm with landscaping atop the berm, to block the noise.

The residents, in turn, want a wall to prevent sound.

That application is proposed by Saber Riverhead LLC of Armonk, which is headed by Martin Berger.

It calls for a 121,700-square-foot shopping center expected to include tenants such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Christmas Tree Shops, ALDI, Buffalo Wild Wings, Starbucks and Five Below.

The project is proposed for land on the south side of Route 58, just east of Riverhead Raceway.

It also is directly across the street from another proposed shopping center called The Shops at Riverhead. That one totals 271,800 square feet and would include a 151,000-square-foot Costco warehouse store as its anchor, along with a gas fueling station associated with the Costco.

The Riverhead Town Planning Board reviewed both applications at its meeting Thursday.

Glen Cerrato, Chris Zimmermann and Vincent Ewart, all of whom live in Glenwood Village, a senior community that abuts Saber Riverhead’s 13-acre property, all voiced concerns about noise.

“My concern is noise mitigation,” Mr. Cerrato said. “People that live at Glenwood are elderly and they’re entitled, I believe by law, to the right of quiet enjoyment. Stop & Shop, we all know, has been a horror for the people who live close to it.”

The new Stop & Shop store on Route 58, which was built a few years ago, also abuts Glenwood, and residents say they frequently hear noise from trucks unloading there.

The board took no formal action on the proposal.

The Shops at Riverhead attorney, Peter Danowski, asked if the Planning Board could prepare a resolution to approve that developer’s application at the next formal meeting on Oct. 4, which would allow the developers to break ground this fall.

Planners were non-committal on that request.

“As soon as it’s ready, we’re going to vote,” Mr. Densieski said.

Read more in the Sept. 27 News-Review newspaper.

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