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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09/07/12 12:00pm
09/07/2012 12:00 PM

I don’t know Lisa Worthington, newly appointed to the Zoning Board of Appeals, but I have no problem with her accepting what she reportedly sees as an “interesting job opportunity.”

However, I take extreme issue with the Town Board members who thumbed their noses at the people of Riverhead in filling this critical post. Stunningly, board members don’t even pretend Ms. Worthington has suitable training or experience. In fact, they don’t suggest she has any qualifications whatsoever, other than a “fresh face.”

It’s not just qualifications that are lacking; Ms. Worthington appears never to have given zoning matters any thought. Yet what intrigues her (as told to this paper) is the idea of “deciding what should be granted and what shouldn’t be.”

Most of us would jump at the chance to play Solomon, getting paid $6,000 to sit at a handful of meetings and see our opinions become law, but we realize such opportunities must be earned. In a fair world, they come with lots of study, hard work and salient accomplishments in relevant fields. Sometimes, of course, such jobs are simply plums awarded to loyal party workers.

Yet, neither condition is in evidence here, and we’re left to wonder: Why Ms. Worthington?

Absent any other explanation ­— and none are forthcoming — Town Board members chose Ms. Worthington because they’re confident she’ll do what they expect, ask or even tell her to do.

Take the time to read town code and you’ll see that ZBA members wield more power over what gets built in Riverhead than do the Town Board members that appoint them. For example, the Town Board will eventually decide on zoning changes in the Wading River corridor, but the ZBA will have, in a practical sense, nearly unfettered ability to nullify the new rules by granting variances, project by project.

Riverhead has worked this way for a long time, but what’s particularly striking is the lack of balance. Looking at years of zoning decisions, in many categories nearly all variance applications are granted, and the ZBA’s reputation as a rubber stamp appears well-earned.

Riverhead voters deserve decision-making boards where contrary ideas and opinions are expressed and considered. Lively debate — not bloc voting — should be the norm.


The candidate “search process” that brought us Ms. Worthington took four months, though Town Board members were thinking about this opening far longer. (Charles Sclafani resigned his ZBA seat in early May, but his Ethics Board situation was in review for a year prior.)

Yet all Mr. Walter tells us, based on last week’s News-Review report, is that she “was suggested by a couple of people.”

That’s offensive.

A few years ago, Southampton Town implemented a new law requiring that positions at the ZBA and other boards be filled by public interview. (Read the law below.) Anyone interested can submit a letter or resume and anyone interested can observe the Town Board’s vetting of candidates. The purpose “is to encourage transparency within town government.”

Riverhead taxpayers deserve no less.

Two ZBA appointments ago, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio expressed interest in opening up this process, and Councilman George Gabrielsen expressed support. They had the right idea; too bad it was squelched.

Our town is blessed with people possessing a wealth of directly relevant knowledge, who work tirelessly for the betterment of Riverhead. For them to be passed over for a “fresh face” and nothing more is sad, and does the town a disservice.

The fact that this particular ZBA seat wasn’t a swing vote (appointing an outspoken ZBA opponent would have suggested balance, but changed nothing) makes it even more embarrassing.

Consider Rose Sanders. In her time on the ZBA, Ms. Sanders spoke her mind, voted her conscience and was almost entirely irrelevant in terms of outcomes. Look at decisions during her tenure and you’ll see a long string of 4-to-1 votes.

In the best possible case, Ms. Worthington will similarly speak her mind and vote her conscience. Yet, lacking Ms. Sanders’ extensive experience, how will she garner the knowledge to take an opposing position against an architect, realtor or the former head of the buildings department now on the board? Lacking credentials, how will she find the courage to stand her ground?

The bottom line is that even if Ms. Worthington is a wonderful person and a fast learner, takes her ZBA responsibilities seriously and proves competent, steadfast and incorruptible, it won’t be enough.

For variances to become the exception rather than the rule, we need all future ZBA members to be questioned and qualified in open session.

For Riverhead to be governed by its best minds, rather than those with the best connections, future appointments to every board must be open to all and conducted in the light of day.

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, a preservation group.

ZBA Appoint SH Law

09/02/12 12:00pm
09/02/2012 12:00 PM

The new appointment to the Riverhead Zoning Board of Appeals is a stay-at-home mom and a former teacher and New York City resident.

The Town Board last week unanimously appointed Lisa Worthington of Wading River to a seat that has been vacant since Charles Sclafani resigned in May.

Ms. Worthington said in an interview she’s lived in Wading River for 10 years and has never before been involved in government. She was a teacher for about eight years when she lived in New York City, she said.

“I thought it would be an interesting job opportunity,” she said. “Hearing all the different things that people need variances on and deciding what should be granted and what shouldn’t be.”

Supervisor Sean Walter said Ms. Worthington was suggested by a couple of people and the Town Board interviewed several candidates for the position before deciding on her.

“Ultimately, I think the board wanted to have a fresh face,” he said. “Someone who’s not from the same group.”

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