Bellone pledges county support for Family Community Life Center

An arists rendering of the church and community center.
An artist rendering of the First Baptist Church (far left) and the community center.

The First Baptist Church of Riverhead’s long-planned Family Community Life Center on Northville Turnpike got a shot in the arm in the form of support from Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and other elected officials Monday.

The project also got some financial support from the Horace and Amy Hagedorn Fund, which donated $25,000.

If built, the Family Community Life Center — a mixed-use project that has been in the planning stages for more than 25 years — would include an Olympic-size indoor swimming pool, a 25-seat theater and media center, 24-hour day care facilities, an indoor walking track, gymnasium, fitness center, classroom space, and 132 affordable apartment units intended as “workforce housing” for the area.

The project also depends on Riverhead Town’s adopting a new overlay zone, which would allow such a project to be built on the Northville Turnpike property owned by the church — as well as in any other area of town that meets the criteria of the overlay zone, which would require 10 or more acres of land with at least 800 feet of frontage on a county or state highway as well as public water and sewer connections.

The Town Board has scheduled a public hearing on that proposed overlay zone on Wednesday, Nov. 6, at its 2 p.m. meeting.

Sandra Dunn of Hampton Bays, who was representing the Horace and Amy Hagedorn Fund at the New York Community Trust, announced the grant at a “Community Supporters and Stakeholders Breakfast” on the  project held Monday morning at the Suffolk Community College Culinary Arts school in downtown Riverhead.

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TIM GANNON PHOTO | Steve Bellone at Monday's breakfast in Riverhead.
TIM GANNON PHOTO | Steve Bellone at Monday’s breakfast in Riverhead.

The meeting was sponsored by the Parr Organization, the developer that built the culinary school and is working with First Baptist on the center.

The Hagedorn fund is named after Horace Hagedorn, the late founder of Miracle-Gro, who created the trust fund to help “support and promote social equity on Long Island.”

It is run by his wife, Amy, and based in Port Washington.

“Most of the money in trust goes to social justice causes,” Ms. Dunn said. The Family Community Life Center project was chosen, she said, because “we truly belief it’s a social justice project.”

She said many of the communities on the East End have a lot of segregation and poverty, and “it’s this type of project that works to combat that.”

Mr. Bellone didn’t bring a check, but he did commit the county’s support to the project down the road.

“This project completely fits within the county’s economic development plans,” Mr. Bellone said. “To the extent we can do anything, including financial support, I can tell you the county will be there.”

Suffolk County support is critical for the project to move forward.

Under the town’s transfer of farmland development rights program, the church would have to buy more than 90 credits, which would cost more than $7 million, in order to build the project.

The Rev. Charles Coverdale, the pastor of the church and Family Community Life Center chairman, said such a figure would kill the project.

But a county program called the Suffolk County Workforce Housing Transfer of Development Rights program, would allow development rights taken from land purchased by the county for open space preservation to be used, at no charge, and allow additional development on affordable or workforce housing programs that meet county guidelines for such housing.

Rev. Coverdale said the church is planning to use the county program to help make the center a reality.

Also on Monday, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter thanked Mr. Bellone for the county’s recent $8 million grant to go toward Riverhead’s sewage treatment plant upgrade.

“That grant makes this project more of a reality,” Mr. Walter said at the breakfast Monday. He said the town “is going to do everything we can to make sure the zoning is in the code” for the church’s project.

He also told Mr. Bellone, “We also need development rights credits. Ninety, I think.”

Other officials who spoke in support of the plan Monday included Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) and Riverhead Councilman John Dunleavy.

Mr. Dunleavy, who has been critical of the proposed zone change in the past, said after the event that he supports the Family Community Life Center, but on the issue of the housing, he said the town needs to get payments in lieu of taxes from the church, because the town is losing $500,000 to $600,000 per year in tax revenue otherwise.

As for the development rights credits, Mr. Dunleavy said he believes those credits should come from open space preserved in Riverhead Town, and not from open space purchased elsewhere.

Rev. Coverdale said the church has committed to making payments in lieu of taxes for police, fire and ambulance service.

He said the property is already tax exempt, so the town isn’t losing anything.

While there have been concerns expressed that such housing projects could place an increased burden on the school district, Rev. Coverdale emphasized that Riverhead School Superintendent Nancy Carney is in favor of the project.

She appeared in a video speaking in support of the plans.

Others speaking in the video shown at the breakfast Monday included Howard Bluver, president and CEO of Suffolk County National Bank; Edgar Goodale, the co-chairman of Riverhead Building Supply; and Andrew Mitchell, president and CEO of Peconic Bay Medical Center.

Art Dromerhauser, CEO of Strategic Fundraising, which is working on the project, said that more than $1.1 million has been raised for it through various events, and he said a  major fundraiser program is planned for the future.

Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst also expressed support for the project Monday.

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