Neighbors, unions, Dems protest at Costco construction site

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Foxwood Village residents picketed in front of the Costco constuction site on Route 58 Tuesday morning.
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Foxwood Village residents picketed in front of the Costco constuction site on Route 58 Tuesday morning.

Three sets of demonstrators descended on a Riverhead construction site Tuesday, making for a boisterous scene that blended union gripes, neighbor beefs and political aspirations along Route 58, where a Costco Wholesale is in the works.

Neighbors from the adjacent Foxwood Village gathered to rally against the developer’s having clear-cut all trees that had been on the property, which stretches north from the busy thoroughfare. The neighbors have also taken issue with what they say is a flimsy fence the developer has put up along the property lines.

Union workers on hand protested the developers’ alleged use of out-of-state workers on the job.

And, finally, Democratic candidates in this fall’s elections protested the decisions of the current all-Republican Town Board that permitted the clear-cutting.

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Millie Thomas, Democratic Town Board candidate, handed out her palm cards and criticized the current Town Board.

“We are outraged by what happened here,” Ms. Thomas said. “They cleared 42 acres of land. We didn’t need a Costco. We have BJ’s down the road, we have Walmart, and it is only going to bring low-paying jobs. We have people here who need jobs and they’ve hired out-of-state workers.”

John McManmon, Democratic candidate for state assembly, and Democratic Town Board candidate Bill Bianchi were also was on hand, and Mr. Bianchi said he also handed out campaign information.

“We’ve only got three and a half weeks until the election,” he said. “You want to meet as many people as you can. I think the residents of Foxwood Village have a right to complain.”

Marylee Feldman, president of the Foxwood Village Homeowners Association, said about 25 Foxwood residents participated in the rally, held on the north side of Route 58, in front of the project. Foxwood residents organized the rally, which was publicized on the day before.

The union workers have been protesting at the work site for months.

Several members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 138, 138A, 138B & 138C were present, along with three large, inflatable rats and a truck driving back and forth with a message critical of the decision to hire out-of-town workers.

“Shame on Costco Wholesale,” read a large sign on a moving truck. “Costco and their general contractor, TD Farrell from Georgia, are undermining the standard of living for Long Island’s Working Families. They are awarding work to unqualified, poorly trained out-of-state workers who won’t pay their fair share of local taxes.”

Representatives from TD Farrell did not return a call seeking comment. Union members at the rally declined to speak to a reporter.

The 271,000 square-foot project, called The Shops at Riverhead, features Costco as its anchor store. The application received site plan approval from the Planning Board in late 2012 before receiving clearing permits from the Town Board earlier this year.

The neighbors on hand accused the project developers, Heritage-Riverhead Retail Corporation LLC and Brixmor Property Group, of dragging their feet over a requirement by the town to submit updated plans for a berm that would serve as a buffer between Foxwood Village and the project. The Planning Board said the elevations submitted by the developer in connection with the proposed berm along the Foxwood Village property line had not been properly engineered.

The board gave the developer a week to correct the issues, or risk losing their building permit. Although the developer has yet to submit elevation plans revised to the town’s liking, the town has not yet pulled the building permit.

“The Planning Board gave them a deadline, they bring in a plan, but it’s not correct, so the Planning Board just gives them more time,” said Barbara Ross, whose home in Foxwood Village directly abuts the construction site.

“They are just not doing anything,” Ms. Feldman said of the town.

The neighbors also want the developer to improve the quality and size of the fence along the property line. They have called it a “toy fence.”

Peter Danowski, attorney for the applicant, could not be reached for comment.

Planning Board attorney Bill Duffy said the board is requiring the developers to submit new plans, but he said they have not given them an official deadline because it would not be in the town’s best interests to pull the building permits now and leave the area covered in loose sand.

“We’ve made it clear we want this done right away and we’re not going to keep going back to the drawing board,” Mr. Duffy said.

Of the rally, he said, “I feel bad that the neighbors felt that way, but I’m spending more than half my time on this. I’ve tried to explain everything to them, and we’re trying to do everything we can.”

Supervisor Sean Walter said he doesn’t think the issue should be made into a “political rally.”

He said the part of the development closest to homes is not slated to be constructed in the first phase of the project, and the developers would need to buy transferred development rights in order to build the proposed second phase.

The Town Board plans to adopt in the coming weeks new rules requiring commercial projects adjacent to residences to have a 50-foot vegetative buffer.

“We think that will resolve the problem,” Mr. Walter said.

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