Pastor: Decision could create major road block for First Community Life Center

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

The Riverhead First Baptist Church’s long-planned First Community Life Center on Northville Turnpike can have nine units per acre of rental apartments, Riverhead Town Board members said on Wednesday during a work session discussion.

That’s three less than the 12 units per acre the church initially proposed, and one less than the 10 units per unit that they had told Supervisor Sean Walter was needed to make the project financially viable.

Reverend Charles Coverdale, the church’s pastor, said he doesn’t know if the project will work financially at nine units per acre. No one from the church was present at the work session.

“Our figures showed 12, and the compromise I thought we agreed was 10,” he said in an interview Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t know if it will work or not. I’ll have to go back to the engineering people who have the financial papers to see if it will work. It would be sorrowful if it didn’t.”

Mr. Walter said he had discussed the issue with the church and arrived at the 10 compromise, which a majority of the board did not support at a work session on Wednesday.

First Baptist has been working on the First Community Life Center since the 1980s.

Its current plan calls for 132 units of rentals that meet “workforce housing” guidelines, although the 132 units was when the project had 12 units per acre. At nine units per acre it would be more like 99 units.

Reverend Coverdale says all of the units would be affordable.

Other features of the proposal include a recreation center, a child care facility, office suites and a performing arts theater.

Town Board members on Wednesday also asked Town Attorney Bob Kozkakiewicz to investigate whether there are ways to require tax payments on the property.

The church’s 12-acre property on Northville Turnpike is tax exempt and the First Community Life Center is a non-profit organization.

“Non-profits are not taxable,” Reverend Coverdale said in an interview Wednesday afternoon.

Mr. Walter said the Town Board doesn’t have the ability to require payments in lieu of taxes, something Councilwoman Jodi Giglio had suggested. He said that’s something only the town Industrial Development Agency can do.

The Town Board also agreed to allow the office suite building proposed in the First Community Life Center project to be 50 feet high, which is higher than the 35 feet limit in the Town Code, but lower than the 70 feet the church originally proposed.

The church also will have to hook up to the town’s sewer district, which Mr. Walter said could cost about $2 million.

Councilman John Dunleavy said he’s concerned about the impact the houses will have on school and town services, and the fact that the site is tax exempt.

“Twenty five percent of the town is off the tax roll,” he said.

The councilman also expressed concern that allowing nine units per acre for this project could set a precedent.

Ms. Giglio also said that even eight units per acre is twice what the town normally allows for projects that have purchased development rights off farmland.

“If the board is not willing to do this, they (the church) have asked me to go back and tell them,” Mr. Walter said during Wednesday’s work session discussion, in which each issue was voted on by an informal straw poll in order to see if there was board support for the entire project. “They have to build this in a way that makes financial sense.”

Reverend Coverdale said he wasn’t aware of the board’s decisions before hearing it from a reporter Wednesday afternoon, and he expressed some frustration with those decisions.

“We’re trying to build something for the kids, and for the people that work at the hospital and in the fire department who need housing,” he said. “I’m trying to do my best to help folks out. I wish I was making some money off this stuff. I’m not.”

He said all the money goes back into the project.

“I think we in the community keep getting confused about what we want and what we need,” he said.

[email protected]