Town explores zoning change that would allow for assisted living facilities

In December, a 220,000-square foot assisted living facility was proposed on 22 acres just north of Home Depot on Mill Road.
But town officials say that under current zoning, there is nowhere in town where such a facility would be permitted.
That may change soon.

The Riverhead Town Board is considering a proposal to create a special floating zone to allow assisted living projects in the town.
Such proposals would allow seniors to simply move up to a different level of care, rather than move out of the community, according to Councilman John Dunleavy, who proposed the new zone.

In addition to the Mill Road proposal, Peconic Bay Medical Center may also be proposing an assisted living facility on land it currently uses for parking on the west side of Roanoke Avenue, across from the hospital.

“We’re considering between 100 and 150 units of either senior affordable housing or assisted living units,” hospital president Andrew Mitchell said. The hospital also seeks to build a two to three story parking garage adjacent to the housing on the same three acre property, Mr. Mitchell said.

“We’re finding that the people living in all of the senior housing built in Riverhead over the years are now getting older and needing additional services,” Mr. Mitchell said.

The proposal is just in the conceptual state right now. While town officials were hoping to lure the hospital into building something downtown, Mr. Mitchell said it is easier for the hospital to build on land it already owns.

Currently, the zoning doesn’t allow assisted living projects anywhere in town, officials said.

The town already has heard from at least two applicants who are looking to build assisted living facilities, but need the town to change the zoning to allow it.

The Mill Road project was presented to the town’s Industrial Development Agency in December, but has not yet been formally proposed because of the zoning issue.

Attorney Ronald DeVito told the IDA that his plan would have 105 homes of between 1,200 and 1,400 square feet for active or “independent living” seniors, along with a two-story, 50-apartment enriched housing program, 12 assisted living units in a one-story building, and a two-story clubhouse with dining and activities.

The Town Board is considering scheduling a public hearing on a proposal to create a “senior living and continuum of care retirement community zoning use district.”

It would be a “floating zone,” which means that it could be located anywhere that meets the requirements set out in the code. Town planning director Rick Hanley said he believes very few sites in town will meet those guidelines.

The goal of the district would be to provide for “specialized housing options and care for seniors through the development of facilities designed for independent living, assisted living and enriched housing for the senior citizens of the Town of Riverhead,” according to a draft of the proposal.

In order to qualify for the district, a minimum of 25 acres is needed, along with at least 1,500 feet of continuous frontage on a public highway, or 750 feet on a combination of two public highways. Properties also would need to be served by the Riverhead Sewer District and to be located within 1,500 feet of a designated hamlet area.

Neither the Mill Road proposal nor the hospital proposal meets the acreage requirement, although Mr. Mitchell said that many of the services offered in traditional assisted care facilities wouldn’t be needed in the hospital’s proposal because those services are available across the street in the hospital and its skilled nursing facility.

The hospital had planned to be part of an assisted living project on Manor Road in Calverton a few years ago. That proposal was part of a development that also called for retail and a YMCA, but it has been tied up in litigation with the town.

Town officials said they feel the town needs assisted living facilities, but they want to be careful where they allow them to be built.

“We need them in town and we don’t want to make this too restrictive,” said Councilwoman Jodi Giglio.
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