Community Benefit Zone discussion grinds to a halt

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

The Riverhead Town Board doesn’t have a three-vote majority in support of even scheduling a public hearing on the proposed Community Benefit Use District, which is needed for First Baptist Church’s proposed Family Community Life Center on Northville Turnpike — and, unless something changes, the board doesn’t plan on discussing it any further.

Board members George Gabrielsen and John Dunleavy said at Thursday’s Town Board work session that they oppose the proposed 132-unit affordable apartments planned for the FCLC, and they oppose the fact that it would be tax exempt, since it is proposed for the church’s already tax-exempt property.

Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman Jim Wooten supported going to a hearing on the proposed overlay zone, and Mr. Walter said at one point the project will be vital to development at Enterprise Park at Calverton, as the affordable housing units will provide much needed inventory to Riverhead’s limited rental housing stock.

“I’m saying if you want EPCAL to work, this is part of making EPCAL work,” the supervisor said.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who had been opposed to scheduling a hearing, has missed several recent meetings due to a family emergency and was absent on Thursday.

The board has discussed the proposed overlay zone many times, so far arriving at no conclusion. The church has been proposing the community center since the 1980s and has added the affordable apartments in recent years as a means of deriving income to support the community center. In October, County Executive Steve Bellone expressed support for the project, offering to utilize a county transfer of development rights program in order to help move the project along. And in November, supporters of the project packed town hall at a public hearing on a prior version of the zoning.

But at this point, Mr. Gabrielsen and Mr. Dunleavy stated before the board’s discussion even began on Thursday that they would not support scheduling a hearing on the zone.

“There’s no benefit in continuing this,” Mr. Walter told First Baptist Pastor Charles Coverdale at the end of the discussion. “You have your work cut out for you. I don’t want to keep torturing this.”

The Rev. Coverdale declined comment at the meeting, and seemed visibly upset by the board’s action.

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