Supervisor hopes to curb tree cutting along Route 58

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Excavation at the site of a future Costco on Route 58 stretches up to neighboring homes in Foxwood Village.

With developers of four large commercial projects clearing trees from property along Route 58 at the same time, most residents who frequent the busy thoroughfare have taken notice.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter is now proposing that the town develop new regulations for tree clearing.

“I am very unhappy that these shopping centers clear-cut these sites, and I’m a little surprised that the Planning Board let them do it,” Mr. Walter said in an interview. “In the future, hopefully, we will have an ordinance that seeks to preserve trees.”

He’s asked town planning director Rick Hanley to work on creating such an ordinance.

There are three large commercial shopping centers all under construction toward western end of Route 58 (refer to below map).

These sites are for a 170,000-square-foot Walmart (bottom-left), on the north side of Route 58 across from Tanger Outlets, a 122,000-square-foot shopping center, located between Riverhead Raceway and Holiday Inn Express on the south side of Route 58 that will house a Dick’s Sporting Goods and other stores (top-right); and a 271,000-square-foot Shops at Riverhead shopping center, with a Costco anchor store, adjacent to the Riverhead Auto Mall on the north side of Route 58 (top-left). Further east, on the northeast corner of Route 58 and Northville Turnpike, clearing has also taken place recently for a 28,000-square-foot office complex called Northville Commerce Park (bottom-right).

BING MAPS | (Clockwise from upper left) Costco, Saber Riverhead, Walmart, and Northville Commerce Park developments.

Mr. Walter didn’t have any specific changes in mind, but said, “We’ve got to put some guidance in the code that doesn’t allow them to do this again.”

All the projects were approved by the town Planning Board, with the exception of one that will house a large Walmart, which was the Town Board settlement of a lawsuit.

None of the developers has been cited for violations regarding the clearing.

Planning Board chairman Richard O’Dea said the up-front clearing of all the land at the Costco site was done at the request of the applicant, whose representatives have said they will likely seek to build additional stores on the site in the future, and clearing all the land now would eliminate the need to disturb neighbors twice. The developer also proposed a “cut and fill” process that would neither import nor export material from the site, but would reuse sand on high parts of the land to fill holes and low areas.

Mr. O’Dea said there were representatives from the neighboring Foxwood Village community at the Planning Board discussions on the plan, and board members acknowledged their requests to have the Costco building moved farther away from their homes, and required the developer to move the building. The Planning Board also required a fence along the property line to be built first, so that animals leaving the cleared area wouldn’t scatter to the Foxwood Village properties, he said.

Mr. O’Dea added that he couldn’t recall that the Foxwood Village residents who had attended the meeting raised any objections to the clearing plan itself.

On another Route 58 site, which will include Dick’s Sporting Goods and Christmas Tree Shops, among other stores, the Planning Board had input from the owner and residents of the adjacent Glenwood Village community, and required the applicant to put up a sound barrier as a result of that input, Mr. O’Dea said.

Robert Hall, a Foxwood Village resident who attended many of the meetings for Shops at Riverhead project, acknowledged they hadn’t protested the clearing for the shopping center that vigorously. But, he said, he hadn’t expected the land to look anything like it does now.

“It really is horrible,” he said in an interview. “We got this two-bit little wooden fence that a teenager could break through. Talking about it and looking at plans is one thing, but when the reality comes along, it’s shocking.”

Mr. Hall said he plans to go back to the Planning Board and ask that a sound barrier be built along the property line, much like what is being built along the Glenwood Village property line by the developer there.

Mr. Walter also had harsh woods for the Costco development regarding the tree clearing.

“Costco is not being a good neighbor,” he said. “They should be apologizing to the residents of Foxwoods and they should put new trees up now.”

While it cleared all the trees up front, even on parts of the property it is not currently developing, the Shops at Riverhead/Costco proposal does call for planting new trees to buffer the homes at Foxwood, according to Peter Danowski, the attorney for the applicant.

“You’ve got four big projects going on all at the same time, and everyone sees all this dust flying, but I think everyone will be happy when it’s done and they see the finished product.

“We try to do it quick so the neighbors will be affected for the least amount of time.”

Mr. Danowski said it’s often difficult for developers to leave existing trees on the property because their root systems become intertwined with sewer pipes and septic systems.

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