Town proposes increased buffer for future commercial developments

TIM GANNON PHOTO | At the site of the Costco development, trees were cleared up to the property line of Foxwood Village, which officials hope to avoid in the future.

In the wake of three large commercial developers clearing acres of land along western Route 58 at the same time — in some cases right up to neighboring homes — Riverhead Town officials are hoping to quickly draft new laws aimed at preventing a recurrence.

At its work session Thursday, Town Board members discussed a proposed code revision that would require commercial developments adjourning residential areas to have a 50-foot natural buffer if the proposed commercial building is more than 5,000 square feet.

For smaller buildings, the proposal would require a 25-foot buffer, according to the code drawn up by town planning and building administrator Jeff Murphree.

This proposal applied to the commercial developments in the Destination Retail Center zone along western Route 58; the Shopping Center zone and the Business Center zone, which also cover much of Route 58; as well as the Industrial A zone and Industrial C zones.

Board members said they were confident the changes would work for larger lots, but they are still debating what to do about smaller commercial lots, like those along Main Road in Jamesport and Aquebogue, and along Route 25A in Wading River.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio suggested that the buffer size in smaller developments be based on a percentage of the lot depth.

“If they only have a 100-foot lot, we can’t ask them to do a 50-foot buffer or a 25-foot buffer,” she said.

The board asked Mr. Murphree to outline a proposal that set the buffer size as a percentage of the lot size.

Ms. Giglio also suggested a sound wall or barrier be used in a case where a 50-foot buffer isn’t possible. Mr. Walter said he didn’t think he would support that.

“They’re not exactly the most attractive things,” he said. “If you put a sound wall up, all of a sudden it’s like you’re living next to the expressway.”

Councilman John Dunleavy added: “I wouldn’t want a sound wall behind my house.”

Mr. Murphree’s proposal also included a minimum six-foot high stockade fence, but gave the Planning Board discretion where natural buffers exist.

“I would like to get this to a public hearing even though it might not be perfect,” Mr. Walter said, adding that changes can be made based on public input.

Mr. Walter said it was “amazing” that this hadn’t been done years earlier.

“We’re fixing it,” he said. “I don’t know why it wasn’t fixed sooner. I apologize to the folks in Foxwood and Glenwood.”

Residents in Foxwood Village said the clearing for the Shops at Riverhead/Costco development came right up to their property lines, while residents at Glenwood Village are bordering the Saber Riverhead shopping center, which is under construction, and the Stop and Shop supermarket, which has generated noise complaints from neighbors.

Town planning director Rick Hanley said that at that time, “We had the minimum buffering requirements, which was 10 feet and a stockade fence.”

Board members also discussed changes to the town’s parking requirements that would lessen the amount of parking commercial developers are required to provide.

“I don’t think we hear complaints about too little parking,” Mr. Hanley said. “We get complaints about too much parking.”

The proposed change discussed would require office buildings to provide one parking spot per 200 square feet of floor area, instead of the current 150 square feet. Retail stores would provide one parking spot per 250 square feet of floor area, instead of the current 200 square feet.

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