Box stores making demands of town

04/22/2010 12:00 AM |

Lowe’s won’t be coming to Riverhead unless a new traffic light is installed on Route 58.

And Costco won’t be coming to Riverhead unless it gets a zoning amendment to allow gas pumps.

“It’s another example of the tail wagging the dog,” said Councilman Jim Wooten, who acknowledged last Thursday that he would support the new light for Lowe’s for safety reasons.

Mr. Wooten was absent when the Riverhead Town Board on Tuesday voted 4-0 to support putting a new traffic light for Lowe’s, which is proposing a new home improvement store at the old Suffolk Life site.

The board also held a public hearing on the proposal to allow warehouses or wholesale stores, such as Costco, to have gas fueling stations in the Destination Retail Center zone. Costco requested the change, as it is considering becoming a tenant in the proposed Shops at Riverhead at the old Hazeltine site on Route 58 across from Riverhead Raceway.

A number of residents from the adjacent Foxwood Village development opposed allowing gas pumps at Costco.

Lowe’s traffic light

Joseph Buzzell, an attorney for the proposed Lowe’s store, said in an interview that unless the county approves a new traffic light connecting the old Suffolk Life entrance to the Riverhead Centre entrance near Hudson City Savings Bank, Lowe’s will drop the project.

“No light, no deal,” Mr. Buzzell said Friday.

The county Department of Public Works in February rejected the new light, which would be the third Route 58 traffic light along the length of Riverhead Centre’s property and the 15th traffic light between the Long Island Expressway and County Road 105.

But in addition to the Town Board resolution urging support for the light, which Lowe’s would pay for, Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) is planning to submit a resolution before the legislature on April 27 that would override the DPW ruling, Mr. Buzzell said.

Without a new light at the Suffolk Life entrance, westbound traffic turning into the proposed Lowe’s site — and drivers trying to turn left out of the Lowe’s site — would have no light and two lanes of traffic to cross, Mr. Buzzell said.

“It’s not great planning, but if Lowe’s isn’t going to come because they can’t get a traffic light, what do I want to do? Not have Lowe’s come?” Supervisor Sean Walter asked. “That’s construction jobs, that’s a million dollar building, this is a job-creating resolution.”

“People are going to make the left turn anyway and it’s going to be dangerous because they are going to have to come across two lanes of traffic,” Councilman John Dunleavy said.

Mr. Buzzell said the Suffolk Life building “is one of the biggest eyesores in town” and if Lowe’s pulls out, the town is not likely to get another developer willing to invest as much in the property.

He said the light is the last obstacle Lowe’s faces before getting site plan approval, and he said the company would make the site look nice and include more landscaping than the Town Code requires.

Costco gas station

Meanwhile, the proposal to allow a fueling station at the proposed Costco ran into opposition at a public hearing Tuesday night. The hearing was technically on a proposed code change that would allow “warehouse clubs or wholesale clubs” in the Destination Retail Zone, and also would permit fueling facilities as an accessory use to warehouse or wholesale clubs in the DRC zone, so long as they are at least 300 feet from residences.

“Costco would be willing to take a large space (in the development) on the condition that it be allowed to sell gasoline to its customers,” Jerry Kremer, an attorney for the applicant, Developers Realty Corporation of Connecticut, stated in a letter to the town late last year.

The proposed station would have only self-serve pumps that could be operated only by credit or debit cards held by Costco members, according to Mr. Kremer. The gas would be discounted to lure people to join Costco, he explained. Costco has fueling stations at many of its stores nationwide, but the closest one to Riverhead is on Staten Island.

Robert Hall, a resident of Foxwood Village, said people in his development are concerned about the potential for noise, ground and air pollution resulting from Costco and the gas pumps. He said there have been gas leaks from fuel stations that have spread further than 300 feet in other areas.

“It appears zoning can be changed at will,” he said, adding that residents who buy property have no assurances of what can be built near them if the town is going to allow zoning to be changed so easily.

Barbara Ross, another Foxwood resident, gave the Town Board a petition with 208 signatures in opposition to the gas pumps and to allowing warehouse or wholesale clubs in the DRC.

“We don’t want this,” she said.

Peter Danowski, an attorney representing the developer at Tuesday’s hearing, said the applicant had agreed to move the proposed Costco store farther away from the homes in Foxwood Village. It would be at the southeast corner of the property, adjacent to and directly behind Riverhead Auto Mall, he said.

But Foxwood residents said the developers never responded to issues they had brought up in a May 2008 letter, and never responded to issues the town brought up in an Oct. 2008 letter regarding an environmental impact study for the project.

Mr. Danowski said the developers do want to continue discussions with neighbors to get their comments on the project.

[email protected]