Planning Board OK’s Marriott hotel proposal — after farmland preservation debate

BROWNING HOTELS COURTESY PHOTO | A rendering of the Marriott hotel proposed for a Route 58 property in Riverhead.

Browning Hotel Properties received site plan approval to build a Marriott Residence Inn hotel next to the Hilton Garden Inn on Route 58 at Thursday night’s Riverhead Planning Board meeting

But not without an argument.

Planning Board member Lyle Wells, who is a farmer, objected to the reduction in farmland development rights credits that Browning will have to buy in order to build the second hotel on the same 4.8-acre parcel just east of the Long Island Expressway entrance.

Applicant Lee Browning originally received site plan approval in 2006 for the two hotels, on the condition that he purchased 71.8 farmland development credits.

The town’s transfer of development rights program allows developers to buy development credits from farmland that the town aims to preserve, and use it to increase building in designated, higher-density areas.

The 114-room Hilton Garden Inn, which could be built on its own without any farmland credits, was constructed first.

But in May 2010, the Riverhead Town Board changed the way it calculates floor area ratio, which is used to determine how many farmland credits are needed, and reduced certain “common areas” like hallways, closets and bathrooms from the calculation.

Because of this, Mr. Browning now only needed to acquire 36.2 farmland credits to build the second hotel, a proposed 137-room Marriott Residence Inn.

Mr. Wells and Long Island Farm Bureau executive director Joe Gergela voiced opposition to this change at a Town Board meeting in November, and Mr. Wells did likewise at Thursday night’s Planning Board meeting.

“Transfer of development rights in this town is our only preservation tool at this point,” Mr. Wells said. “To give them away on what is probably the most valuable property in the Town of Riverhead, to me, seems a little shortsighted.”
Planning Board member Ed Densieski disagreed. He said the TDR program hadn’t been used much on commercial projects under the prior FAR calculations, which he felt were too onerous.

“I think by relaxing it a little bit you will actually sell more credits,” he said.

“And the other reason that I support this is because it’s creating construction jobs in a bad economy, it’s creating permanent jobs in a bad economy, it’s creating a tourist-friendly environment…for tourists and visitors; it’s increasing the tax base; it’s building a truly green LEEDS building; and, lastly,it’s preserving a farm.

“We should also point out that it’s the Town Board that sets the criteria, so whether we like it or not, it’s the code we have to follow,” said Planning Board member Lou Bochetti.

The final vote was 4-1 in favor, with only Mr. Wells opposed.

Phil Barbato of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coaltion, a civic alliance, also raised some concerns about the new formula, which recalculated the FAR for the existing hotel as well as the proposed one in determining how many credits Mr. Browning needs for the second hotel.

Had the new FAR calculations only been used on the proposed second hotel, Mr. Browning would have needed about 46 credits to build the second hotel, officials said.

“Is someone who’s already built something going to come back and ask for their money back?” Mr. Barbato asked.

Planning Board chairman Richard O’Dea said he doesn’t think there will be another case like this one, where two hotels are planned on the same parcel.

“We have to calculate the floor area of the entire parcel, since both hotels are going to be on the same lot,” deputy town attorney Robert Duffy said. “And based on state law, you have to make those calculations based on the law that’s an effect on the day you make you decision. So that is why the commercial floor area for both buildings would have to be recalculated in the transfer rights total will be based on that.”

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