Town Board considers Wading River zoning changes

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Traffic on Route 25A in Wading River passes a property (background) where developer Kenn Barra has already won approvals for a shopping center.

Riverhead Town Board members this week discussed some of the zoning change proposals recommended in the draft Wading River Route 25A Corridor Study.

A consensus of board members does not support a zone change on the undeveloped property owned by John Zoumas next to CVS Pharmacy in Wading River, it was discussed at a public work session Thursday in Town Hall.

But board members do support rezoning three properties on the north side of Route 25A to a new zone that doesn’t permit retail use.

The 18-acre Zoumas property is the site of a proposed 56,000-square-foot commercial development project called Central Square that is currently before the town Planning Board. It calls for retail uses and a restaurant. The property is located on the south side of Route 25A, just east of the CVS. It is currently zoning for Business CR (Neighborhood Rural Business) on the part of the property fronting the road, and one-acre residential on the back part of the property.

The draft version of the study proposes to rezone the entire piece to a zone called multi-family residential/professional office (MRP), which allows a combination of condos and professional office uses.

The town actually rezoned the property following the recommendations of the town’s 2003 comprehensive master plan update, but the Zoumas family sued and the zoning was overturned by the courts.

Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman Jim Wooten supported the MRP change of zoning for the Zoumas property, but the other three board members did not.

“I think this would make a beautiful multi-family community,” Mr. Walter said of the MRP zoning on the Zoumas land.

The supervisor said he thinks the Zoumases will discover that the MRP zoning is more valuable than the retail zoning.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio opposed the rezone.

“We’re just setting ourselves up for litigation,” she said.

The board informally supported the proposed rezoning that the draft study calls for on three properties on the north side of Route 25A, across from and slightly east of the CVS, as well another other, smaller property further east on Route 25A near the Sound Avenue traffic light. The proposal would rezone all of these properties from Business CR to MRP zoning.

These include a 10.6-acre parcel owned by Kathleen Condzella and Maryann Stajk that is just east of a vacant ice cream store and has been proposed for a 42,000-square-foot development called North Country Plaza, which calls for retail and a restaurant.

Also suggested for rezoning is the property just east of that, a 5.6-acre farm owned by John Condzella, and the property just east of that, a six-acre vacant parcel owned by developer Kenney Barra. That property is the site of an annual carnival in Wading River.

A 1.3-acre property, owned by the Vermeulen family, between the Valero gas station and Debbie Trail near the Sound Avenue traffic light also is proposed for rezoning from Business CR to MRP.

Frank Fish, a principal in the Manhattan-based BFJ Planning, the company doing the study, said the proposed rezoning aims to eliminate strip shopping centers.

If the board adopts the rezoning on the north side of Route 25A, the zoning would be MRP for everything between the Valero station to the east and the vacant ice cream store to the west.

Peter Danowski, an attorney who represents the North Country Plaza and Central Square applications, and who also represents Mr. Barra, said that Mr. Barra had an approved site plan for the six-acre property years ago that would have allowed a country inn there, but that the approvals have since expired.

He opposes the rezoning to MRP, and last week told the News-Review the town could be facing litigation if it moved forward with the changes.

“The market is in retail,” he said. “No one is building residential now.”

The study makes no recommendation for Mr. Barra’s property on the corner of Route 25A and Sound Avenue, where plans for a shopping center called Knightland were recently approved and challenged in court by the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition. And Town Board member agreed with the study’s recommendation not to change the Business CR zoning on any of the properties on Route 25A west of the intersection with Wading River-Manor Road.

Richard Amper of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, who is working on the “Save Wading River” campaign with the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition umbrella civic group, the Wading River Civic Association and the Group for the East End, said that a previous study of Wading River that BFJ Planning did for neighboring Brookhaven Town said the Wading River area could absorb 23,000 square feet of commercial development, although the firm didn’t formally study or proposed new zoning for Wading River, which is split by Riverhead and Brookhaven towns.

This new study, also by BFJ, would allow for 123,000 square feet of new development, Mr. Amper said.

“This is not just going to impact the existing community, they are going to be cannibalizing one another,” he said of the increased commercial development.

The board will need to hold a public hearing before it can make any zoning changes, and no hearings have been scheduled yet.

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