Civic group sues Riverhead Town over Knightland approval

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | The potential future site of Kenn Barra's Knightland at the corner of Sound Avenue and Route 25A in Wading River.

That didn’t take long.

The Riverhead Town Planning Board approved plans for Knightland shopping center in Wading River at about 4 p.m. Thursday, and by 1:30 p.m. Friday, the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition announced it had filed a lawsuit challenging that approval.

And now another large commercial development application has surfaced along the Route 25A corridor in Wading River.

The Knightland project, being proposed by East Wind Caterers owner Kenn Barra, would replace the existing beverage store building at the corner of Route 25A and Sound Avenue with a shopping center comprising 24 retail buildings —  totaling 32,518 square feet of retail and a 4,928 square foot restaurant.

The lawsuit claims the Planning Board “…lacks the authority to approve the project because it does not conform to existing zoning,” and that “the project’s review was required to consider the proposal in combination with five other projects currently proposed for a 1.5-mile stretch of Route 25A and Sound Avenue.”

Knightland is one of four recent commercial proposals in Wading River that led civic and environmental organizations to call for a new study of the zoning along Route 25A, and a moratorium barring the processing of those applications until the study is done.

The Town Board has agreed to do a new study of the zoning and uses on the Route 25A corridor in Wading River, but it did not agree to declare a moratorium.

But another application has been filed recently called North Country Plaza at Wading River, which comprises 42,000 square feet of development, with two restaurants and retail uses. The property is located on the north side of Route 25A, just east of the vacant ice cream store, and diagonally across from CVS.

Dominique Mendez, the president of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition was present during Thursday’s planning board vote, but did not speak.

But in the press release issued Friday, Ms. Mendez states: “The town is considering nearly 200,000 square feet of new commercial development along the main corridor in the rural hamlet — a 50% increase over what is currently there.

“The proposed Knightland [project] is arguably the worst of the retail projects as far as its location and its ability to transform the area into a regional shopping destination, something few who actually live in this currently quiet, small hamlet want to see.”

The suit claims that current zoning permits only “a cluster of stores to meet the daily needs of residents” and not a “destination retail” project such as Knightland — a regional shopping mall consisting of dozens of stores, a food court and a tourist information center intended to draw thousands of shoppers from across the region.

Mr. Barra and his attorney, Peter Danowski, have argued that Knightland is not intended to be a destination shopping center that attracts shoppers from the entire region, but is only intended to attract local shoppers.

Asked about that issue following Thursday’s planning board vote, Mr. Danowski said, “This is absolutely consistent with the zoning and the master plan, where the town specifically wanted this village theme of small buildings, and encouraged that. In this district in Wading River, you can’t put big box stores up. This will be consistent with that, and will create a great feel for the entry into the town.”

Mr. Danowski said Mr. Barra hopes to start construction in the spring.

“Just like the East Wind building, which Mr. Barra built, this will be a real plus for the town and really attractive,” Mr. Danowski said.

Ms. Mendez wrote in a press release that her RNPC group had “no choice” but to file the lawsuit.

“Not only does the Knightland…plan violate zoning but, by failing to study the cumulative impacts of this project along with the growing list of other projects, the town left us no choice but to challenge this outrageous approval,” she said. “What is the point of the current corridor study if game-changing projects like Knightland are to be approved before the study is even completed?”

The other commercial application projects being considered on Route 25A are John Zoumas’ 52,000 square foot Central Square, which is just east of CVS, and 42,000 Venezia Square, which is on the south side of Route 25A west of McDonald’s, and North Country Plaza at Wading River, which was filed on Dec. 6.

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