Costco plan moves forward, clearing allowed for possible future development

TIM GANNON PHOTO | A Costco store, like this one in Holbrook, is coming to Route 58 in Riverhead.

The Riverhead Planning Board on Thursday approved a findings statement for a 270,787 square-foot shopping center on Route 58 that will allow the applicant to clear the entire parcel. The move gives the developer the option to build more stores on the property in the future.

The approval of the findings statement means the environmental study of the project, which began in 2008, is now concluded. The Planning Board is now expected to review the site plan application.

The Shops at Riverhead application, which features a Costco store as its anchor, is proposed on the 41-acre former Hazeltine property between Riverhead Auto Mall and Out East Family Fun. The applicant, Developers Realty Corporation of Connecticut, originally submitted plans five years ago calling for almost 500,000 square feet of development. That plan relied on the use of transfer of development rights, known as TDR, from farmland in order to increase the allowable building density.

Since then, the applicant scrapped the TDR plan and cut the size of the project nearly in half in order to comply with the existing zoning. However, the developer reserved the right to use TDR in the future to build more stores if the economy improves.

The Planning Board vote on the findings statement was 4-1, with Joe Baier casting the lone no vote. After the meeting, he said he voted no because he opposes allowing the applicant to clear the entire property with no guarantee they’ll even build anything else in the future.

Peter Danowski, the attorney for the applicant, said the developer sought to clear everything upfront so that the property wouldn’t have to be cleared a second time if his client decided to build more in the future.

“We don’t want to disturb the neighbors twice,” he said.

Clearing the entire site upfront would also reduce truck traffic in the future, avoid disrupting shoppers and would allow the developer to regrade the property upfront using a “balanced cut and fill” method, in which no sand would exported from or imported to the property, Mr. Danowski said.

There also will be a 29-foot buffer along the property line made of trees, he added.

Residents of the adjacent Foxwood Village housing development had raised concerns about security and noise by allowing the buildings too close to their homes.

Foxwood Village residents Robert Hall and Barbara Ross attended Thursday’s Planning Board meeting. Mr. Hall said he didn’t think there were enough trees in the proposed buffer. Mr. Danowski said they can address that during the site plan process.

“We are all in agreement with whatever he wants in the 29 feet,” Mr. Danowski said of Mr. Hall’s request afterwards.

The findings statement, written by town planning director Rick Hanley, states: “The proposed grading and clearing of the entire site prior to the construction mitigates the impacts on traffic, air quality and noise that the project would have during later phases of contraction.”

It concludes that under the “future build” conditions, the project would have no greater impact on traffic than if nothing was built. It also says the project would create 1,400 full-time jobs, have an annual payroll of $35 million, and a total annual property taxes of $1.2 million.

“It’s a pretty impressive project,” said Planning Board member Ed Densieski, in casting his vote.

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