Town may take action against Costco site owner

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Excavation at the site of a future Costco on Route 58.
TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Excavation at the site of a future Costco on Route 58.

The Riverhead Town Planning Board has scheduled a special meeting Tuesday to “review and possibly take action on The Shops at Riverhead site plan.”

The meeting will be held at 4 p.m. in Town Hall.

The Shops at Riverhead is the proposed 271,000 square foot shopping center on the north side of Route 58, across from Riverhead Raceway, which drew a protest last week from more than one group of gatherers.

The project, which will feature a Costco Warehouse store as its anchor, has run into complaints from neighbors because the developer clear cut all the trees on the site right up to their property line, though the work was done with the approval of the Town Board and Planning Board.

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The Shops at Riverhead has also drawn complaints from the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 138, 138A, 138B & 138C, which says the developer is using out of state, non-union labor. They have been picketing outside the site for weeks, and have three large inflatable rats along the road in front of the property.

The Planning Board recently has threatened to revoke the building permits issued to Shops at Riverhead because it stated that a berm constructed along the property line was not property engineered. To date, however, they have not done so, but assistant town attorney Bill Duffy said that is a possibility for Tuesday.

Ali Moayeri, Costco’s senior vice president for construction, said in an interview on Wednesday that the clearing of the property and the design for the berm had nothing to do with Costco. He said the overall developer of the site, Brixmor Property Group, handled that.

Mr. Moayeri said Costco had to wait for Brixmor to do clearing and grading and installation of utilities before they could even get onto their store’s foundation on site, which they did about two weeks ago.

Costco has purchased its foundation on the site.

Mr. Moayeri said Brixmor hired non-union labor for that part of the job and the unions immediately began picketing outside the site and blaming Costco.

He said Costco had a union contract signed and ready to go with Whiting-Turner, a contractor they have used on many projects.

However, when the unions continued picking this and other Costco sites and stores, Costco “felt like we were being punished for trying to do the right thing.”

He said Costco then rebid the job “open shop,” which means both union and non-union contractors could compete.

Whiting-Turner ended up backing out because they couldn’t match those prices, Mr. Moayeri said, and T.D. Farrell of Georgia was selected.

Mr. Moayeri said they have some union contractors on the site, though most are non-union. The sub-contractors hired by T.D. Farrell include both union and non-union, he said.

Mr. Moayeri said regardless of whether contractors are union or non-union, Costco has a policy that all workers on its construction jobs be paid fair market wages, as determined by the federal Davis-Bacon Act.

Representatives of Brixmor have yet to respond to several requests for comment.