No action taken at special meeting on Shops at Riverhead

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Angry residents of Foxwood Village and Millbrook Community filled the meeting room during the Riverhead Planning Board's special meeting on The Shops of Riverhead Tuesday.
TIM GANNON PHOTO | Angry residents of Foxwood Village and Millbrook Community filled the meeting room during the Riverhead Planning Board’s special meeting on The Shops of Riverhead Tuesday.

With a Town Hall meeting room full of angry residents, the Riverhead Town Planning Board decided Tuesday night not to issue a stop work order at the controversial Shops at Riverhead after planning a special meeting to consider taking action.

Developers instead submitted a revised site plan, which was met with renewed disapproval from residents of the adjacent Foxwood Village and Millbrook communities, who said the plans still leave an inadequate buffer between their homes and the complex and that construction is resulting in increased dust and noise.

“You guys are supposed to do something and all you keep doing is jerking us around,” Foxwood Village resident Steve Stanis told the Planning Board.

“Right now, we’re in a big dust field,” said George Buckingham, the manager at Millbrook, which is east of the development. “This is ridiculous. We can’t even sit in the yard.”

On Sept. 19, the Planning Board had threatened to pull the building permit for the 271,000-square-foot project, which will have a Costco store as its anchor, on the grounds that the elevation drawings submitted for the berm on the northern property line were not properly engineered. But the town never pulled the permit. Planning Board attorney Bill Duffy said Friday that was an option the board had at Tuesday’s special meeting if the developer did not submit suitable elevation plans.

Town planning director Rick Hanley said he needs more time to review those plans before determining whether or not they are up to par.

Vinnie Guadiello, the Planning Board’s consulting engineer, had reviewed the new plans and toured the site Tuesday.

“It appears they are headed in a direction consistent with these [site plan elevation] drawings,” Mr. Guadiello told the Planning Board Tuesday. He said construction could begin this fall on the berm and the vegetative buffer intended to screen homes in Foxwood Village from the development.

The developer, Brixmor Property Group, plans to build a 30-foot vegetative buffer along the site’s northern property line with Foxwood Village and a smaller evergreen buffer along its eastern border with Millbrook, which already has a 50-foot tree buffer. However, Millbrook residents say those trees have no leaves in the winter and provide no buffer from the developer. On the southern border, where the stores are proposed, buffering is replaced with a retaining wall and fence.

The Planning Board approved a site plan for Shops at Riverhead last fall and the Town Board approved a clearing plan earlier this year. Both approvals allowed Brixmor to clear all of the trees on the 41-acre site, even though they will build on only part of it.

The developer requested this because they planned to do a “balanced cut and fill,” meaning that no sand would be imported to or exported from the site.

They also said that option would be less disruptive if they decided to expand the shopping center in the future, something that would require them to buy development right credits from farmland in the town’s agricultural protection zone.

Residents said the wooden fence constructed along the border with Foxwood Village is not adequate as a security fence and should be replaced with a better one.

“That fence is appropriate between neighbors who get along, not between residential and commercial property,” said Barbara Ross, whose Foxwood Village home abuts the development site. She said the current fence could easily be climbed.

Residents also complained that the water truck, which the Planning Board required in the site plan approval to wet down dust, is instead being used for cement.

Planning Board chairman Richard O’Dea said he will ask town code enforcement officers to check on that.

Foxwood Village resident Mike Cuomo said town supervisor Sean Walter acknowledged that the town “screwed up” on Shops at Riverhead. The town appears poised to adopt a new law regarding buffers (see related story), a move critics have said is too little, too late in the wake of the Shops at Riverhead project and others currently in the works.

“We are here to encourage you to remember that you are paid by us. You’re not here to protect developers,” Mr. Cuomo said. “You are here for us. We vote. You woke up a community here that votes.”

The neighbors were part of a larger protest held in front of the construction site last week that also included union representatives and Democrats running for office, who said the project should not have been allowed in its current form.

Peter Danowski, the attorney for the applicant, said afterward that code enforcement has verified that the water truck was being used to wet down the site, and added that the berm they are building was not required at all and is being done voluntarily.

He also disputed that plans for the berm were ever “inconsistent” with the approved site plan. He said they provided additional detail that proved that the berm was consistent with the approved plans.

Ali Moayeri, Costco’s senior vice president for construction, said in an interview last 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. Costco has a separate contractor for its building, he said.

The developer does not plan to build anything on the northern part of the property, near Foxwood Village, in its current phase, and would only build there in the future in a second phase that would require the purchase of development rights.

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