Prayer vigil planned to help push Community Life Center forward

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

The First Baptist Church of Riverhead’s Family Community Life Center has been in the planning stages, in one form or another, for more than 20 years.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | First Baptist Church on Northville Turnpike in Riverhead.
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | First Baptist Church on Northville Turnpike in Riverhead.

The proposal — which calls for a gym, indoor pool, fitness center, community center and 132 “workforce housing” apartment units, among other things, on the church’s 12-acre Northville Turnpike campus — was discussed before the Town Board last year, but board members raised concerns about the number of housing units proposed and whether the project would be tax exempt.

Town officials never made any decisions.

Now, the church is planning to take the issue to a higher authority.

On Saturday, March 16, First Baptist Church officials will hold a prayer vigil in support of the proposal, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.

“If you believe that prayer changes things, please come out and show your support,” state a press release announcing the vigil from Shirley Coverdale, the wife of the Rev. Charles Coverdale.

The last time the issue was discussed at a public Town Board work session was in October, at which time the issue of whether the project would be tax-exempt, and if so, to what extent, was discussed. Council members Jodi Giglio and John Dunleavy were to meet with town tax assessor Lavern Tennenberg on that issue.

Ms. Tennenberg said Monday that they had one meeting, at which nothing was determined, and they never had a followup meeting.

She said the town was waiting for the church to provide some information on its tax exempt status.

Another issue town officials disagreed on was the number of housing units in the proposed apartments. First Baptist officials proposed 132 units, or 12 units per acre, but town officials said they would agree to no more than 10 acres per unit. This came after first saying nine would be the limit.

“Our figures showed 12, and the compromise I thought we agreed was 10,” Rev. Coverdale said in an interview in October. “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.”

Ms. Coverdale said in an interview on Monday that nothing further has been determined on that issue either.

“That’s why we’re having this vigil, where we’re really hoping to get public support and prayerful consideration to bring this to the next step, because we’re really hoping to go to a public hearing on this,” she said.

The housing units are intended to offset the cost of the community center and recreational facilities, she said.

The project would need some Zoning Board of Appeals variances as well, such as a variance on the height of the apartment towers, which are proposed at 50 feet, 15 feet higher than Town Code permits.

First Baptist’s press release describes the project as follows:

“A destination open to the public for year-round use, the 68,830 square foot Community Benefit District will benefit countless numbers of children, youth, elders and families for generations to come. FCLC’s complex will be a comprehensive facility featuring a community of buildings that will include a media center/theater, a 24-hour childcare facility, a senior citizen wellness and daycare center, and a major sports and recreational compound. 132 one- and two-bedroom apartment units will frame the center complex, providing the community with critically needed workforce housing.

“All of FCLC’s facilities, including its pool, gymnasium, fitness center and indoor walking track, will be available for year-round use. FCLC’s Community Benefit District  will answer the many needs of the East End community by creating a hub where families can come together to learn, live, work and play.”

Supervisor Sean Walter aid in an interview Monday that he supports the project and hopes to move it forward.

“I think it’s a great project,” he said. “There’s a need for a community center and since we lost the YMCA, this is the closest thing were going to get to a YMCA in the short term.”

The Peconic YMCA group hasn’t officially given up its efforts to locate a facility in the Riverhead area, but that group’s c0-founder has said the group may consider doing so.

Ms. Coverdale said the church hopes to make the recreation and community center programs as affordable as possible, and she said she thinks the housing will be occupied by people who live in the area already, and will not impact school enrollments.

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Read more about the Family Community Life Center plan.