Town Board OK’s special permits for Village at Jamesport

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Virginia Lammers of South Jamesport (left) and Helga Guthy of Wading River at Tuesday's Town Board meeting.

After listening to nearly three hours of comment and receiving 225 signatures on a petition urging the Riverhead Town Board to reject special permit applications for the controversial Village at Jamesport project, the Riverhead Town Board, in the last resolution of Tuesday’s meeting, voted to approve them.

The crowd wasn’t happy.

After Supervisor Sean Walter cast the last vote in favor of the permits, making it 4-0, with Councilwoman Jodi Giglio absent, one audience member ripped a piece of paper and shouted, “Boo!” Another in the audience muttered, “Corruption.”

In voting to support the special permits, Councilman George Gabrielsen said he believes the new parking and foot traffic could be a boon to other local businesses.

Councilman Jim Wooten said, “I don’t want another strip mall in Jamesport,” explaining that the current plan was preferable to just a string of retail stores, which would be allowed without the special permits.

“My thing is tax base,” said Councilman John Dunleavy. “We have a lot of open space in town where residential people have to make up the tax base.”

Village at Jamesport, proposed by developer Julius Klein’s Jul-Bet Enterprises, sought a special permit for two bistros and a second for medical and professional offices in a proposed 10-building, 42,000-square-foot development on 9.7 acres on the north side of Route 25 in Jamesport, across from Cliff’s Elbow Room restaurant.

Under the property’s current zoning, only retail could be built on all 42,000 square feet. But the applicant opted instead for two 2,000-square-foot bistros and 17,000 square feet of professional offices, with the 23,000 remaining square feet to be used for retail space.

Mr. Walter told opponents who have been lobbying for a zoning change that the existing zoning was approved as part of the town’s 2004 master plan update. Critics argue that a zoning anomaly dating to 1987, which allows for denser development on this parcel than on its neighbors, should have been addressed before Tuesday’s votes.

Mr. Walter also said that special permit uses must meet a set of criteria under the town code that, if met, make them almost as-of-right uses.

But several speakers said the project doesn’t meet the special permit criteria and should be denied.

Richard Wines of Jamesport said that in order to get a special permit, a project must have some advantages for the community.

“I don’t see any advantages from this project,” he said.

Larry Simms, a part-time South Jamesport resident, said tax revenues have been cited by some as an advantage of the special permit uses, but the applicant’s own environmental impact study says taxes will be the same with or without the special permit uses.

Mr. Simms said that, according to the applicant’s environmental study, the permitted uses of the land also would generate the same number of jobs, generate less sewage and use less water than the special permit uses. The bistros also would have the potential of generating odors that the retail use would not, he said.

Georgette Keller, president of the Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association and organizer of the Save Main Road group — which opposes both Village at Jamesport and the Peconic YMCA’s proposed Aquebogue site — insisted that the project’s traffic impact is understated in the applicant’s environmental impact study, and that without an added condition prohibiting fast food restaurants, the town’s definition of a bistro could permit a McDonald’s.

“I am madder than a queen bee in a hornet’s nest today,” she said.

Ms. Keller also suggested the town put a condition in the special use permit approvals prohibiting the applicant from seeking tax exemptions from the Industrial Development Agency.

Harold “Duffy” Griffiths, who owns Duffy’s Deli on Main Road in Jamesport, expressed concern that the town resolution wasn’t holding the applicant to a pledge they had made to allow a cross easement that would allow cars to go from the new parking lot at Village at Jamesport to the parking area behind Main Road stores to the immediate east. He said the special permit approvals essentially leave that out, granting Jul-Bet Enterprises zoning that would undercut the existing stores in Jamesport.

Ms. Keller also suggested that some business owners might be too intimidated to speak out against the project because of Mr. Klein’s “relationship” with town building inspector Sharon Klos, a relationship Mr. Klein has acknowledged.

Tom Kowalsick, who lives right next to the proposed project, raised concerns about noise and odors from the bistros.

The Town Board ultimately did agree to add two conditions suggested by speakers Tuesday.

One requires the applicant to offer a cross-access easement to the properties to the east to allow cars to go from the Village at Jamesport parking lot to the lots behind the Main Road stores without having to exit onto Main Road. The other condition requires the bistros to be limited to providing food service through wait staff, as opposed to fast food.

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