Lowe’s plans OK’d, work to start soon

A Lowe’s home improvement store at the shuttered Suffolk Life property on Route 58 would sit directly across the street from The Home Depot.

Site plans for a Lowe’s home improvement store at the former Suffolk Life property on Route 58 were approved by the Riverhead Town Planning Board last Thursday, and the developers say they hope to begin demolition of the boarded-up building by the end of the summer.

“It’s a complete rebuild of the site,” said Joseph Buzzell, the attorney for Lowe’s. “Everything goes.”

The Planning Board’s approval was not unanimous. Board member Joe Baier voted against the site plan and member Lyle Wells was absent.

“I just think we have too many of these home centers,” Mr. Baier said, citing Lowe’s, Home Depot and Riverhead Building Supply, which will all be in close proximity.

“Someone is going to lose and we’re going to have vacant stores,” he said.

“It’s a capitalist country that’s built on competition,” board member Ed Densieski said. “I hope the residents get better prices because of this, and it’s also getting rid of a huge eyesore.”

Planning board chairman Richard O’Dea said a recent court ruling had found that competition is not a factor that can be considered in zoning cases.

That finding was part of a recent state appeals court decision to overturn Riverhead’s refusal to approve a new Walmart store on the west end of Route 58.

Mr. Densieski raised concerns about the lighting on the property, which the town Zoning Board of Appeals allowed to exceed the illumination levels outlined in the town’s “dark skies” ordinance; he said there’s nothing the Planning Board can do about that.

The decision allows Lowe’s to close on its purchase of the property, which was contingent on site plan approval. The property is owned by the estate of Suffolk Life publisher David Willmott, who died last year.

Suffolk Life operated its newspaper there from 1985 to 2008. Prior to that, it had been a Billy Blakes department store, a Great Eastern department store and Big Wheel Roller Rink.

Lowe’s representatives said they hope to begin demolition in July and believe construction should take about a year.

The new Lowe’s will also mean a new traffic light on Route 58.

The company said it would not proceed with the Riverhead project unless a traffic light is installed at the entrance to the property, which aligns with the western entrance to the Riverhead Centre shopping center.

The county Department of Works rejected the new light earlier this year, saying there were too many lights in close proximity on that stretch of road.

However, the county Legislature last month voted to override the DPW and County Executive Steve Levy signed the override, giving the new traffic signal a green light.

Mr. Buzzell said the light will be synchronized with others on Route 58.

He said Lowe’s had agreed to work with the owners of the properties east and west of the site, so that drivers parked in one lot won’t always have to go back out to Route 58 to get to another lot.

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