Town officials: Community center plan may call for too much housing

An artist rendering of the main atrium at the proposed Family Community Life Center's recreational and other facilities.

First Baptist Church’s plans for a zoning amendment that would allow 132-units of housing and a community center and gym on their 12-acre Northville Turnpike property might mean more housing than some Riverhead Town Board members are willing to support.

Church officials, which have been planning the Family Community Life Center on and off for more than 20 years now, came to the board with a more formalized proposal in October 2010, and town officials set about drawing up a new zoning category that would permit such a proposal.

Board members and church representatives discussed that proposed zoning at last Thursday’s Town Board meeting.

“This Community Center has been the dream of Reverend (Charles) Coverdale and First Baptist Church for many years,” said Cleveland Johnson Jr., the executive vice president of Strategic Fundraising Inc,, which is working with the church on the project.

Rev. Coverdale, who appeared before the board in Octobert 2010 to discuss the plans, was not present last Thursday. He has been the pastor of the church for almost 30 years.

In 2010 he told the Town Board, “When we did a study, we found that the greatest needs in this town are for a recreational center and for workforce housing.”

The plans call for 132-units of workforce housing plus three housing units that would be connected to office space, Mr. Johnson said.

The Community Center would include programs for seniors, a small nutrition program, educational and physical fitness programs, an indoor walking track and gymnasium, Mr. Johnson said. The church has also discussed having an indoor pool in the proposed facility.

To achieve the 132-units, the new zoning, which deputy town attorney Bob Duffy presented to Town Board members for the first time last Thursday, would be a floating zone that would allow up to 13 units per acre.

The zone, dubbed a “Community Benefit District,” would require at least 10 acres, and at least 800 feet of frontage on a state or county highway, according to Mr. Duffy. It also would be required to connect to the town’s water and sewer districts, and would have to support mixed uses combining housing and a community center on the same parcel. Lastly, the center would have to be open to the general public and not just to the housing residents, he said.

“It can’t be all housing or just a community center,” Mr. Duffy said.

The proposed zoning would require a special permit from the Town Board, which would require a public hearing, he said.

The church’s property is currently zoned for a minimum one-acre residential use.

“This is smart growth principals on steroids, this project, with the workforce housing and the community life center and the gymnasium and the pool,” Supervisor Sean Walter said.

But he said later, “The density seems a little high, I don’t know that you’re getting 12 units per acre from this town board.”

“I agree with the supervisor,” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said. “I think it’s a little over zealous.”

But, she said, the town and church can make changes to the proposed zoning as they review it.

Councilman John Dunleavy complained that the assisted living zoning he’s been working on for three years has been required to have ambulance-impact fees and has been submitted to review by committees established by the town.

“I had to have community input,” Mr. Dunleavy said of the committee provisions. “What’s good for the gander is good for the geese…if we have a community group researching the other zoning, we should have a community group research this too.”

Mr. Dunleavy, who questioned whether the proposal was “spot zoning,” also asked if the proposed zoning would impact ambulance and hospital service, which officials have said the assisted living proposal would.

“In case the hospital asks, I’m going to say I brought it up,” Mr. Dunleavy said.

He also asked if the Family Community Life Center would be in competition with the proposed Peconic YMCA, which is looking to buy property somewhere between Jamesport and the easternmost end of the Long Island Expressway, and which is proposing an indoor pool.

One major difference between the two proposd projects is that the YMCA is not proposing a gymnasium, and First Baptist is, Mr. Johnson said.

Mr. Johnson said his group has already had community meetings about the Family Community Life Center, but Mr. Dunleavy said he was never told about this.

Mr. Walter said he got invitations, and then Mr. Dunleavy accused the supervisor of not sharing the information with the rest of the Town Board.

At one point when Mr. Dunleavy was complaining about the First Baptist project being treated more favorably than the assisted living project, Mr. Walter became visibly annoyed and interjected, “Are you done with your comparison to the assisted living proposal? I’m actually embarrassed.”

The majority of the Town Board agreed that they would discuss the proposed zoning again at the Jan. 26 and Feb. 2 work sessions, and that if they can agree on something, they will schedule a public hearing some time in March.

Ms. Giglio said the proposal will likely need more than one public hearing before it can be adopted, and that any proposal seeking the zoning will also require a public hearing.

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