Costco developer: ‘Things will be different now’

CAPTION: Haig Buchakjian, center, the Senior Vice President of Construction with Brixmor Property Group, promised to make things better at the Costco/Shops at Riverhead development at Thursday's Riverhead Planning Board meeting, while some of the neighbors who have been angered by that development look over his shoulder.
Haig Buchakjian of Brixmor Property Group, center, promising to improve current construction plans at the Costco shopping center during Thursday’s Riverhead Planning Board meeting while residents — who’ve been angered by ongoing construction issues at the site — look over his shoulder. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

With angry neighbors literally looking over his shoulder, the senior vice president of construction with Brixmor Property Group told the Riverhead Planning Board Thursday night that things will improve at the controversial Costco/Shops at Riverhead development, which has run into complaints from neighbors and town officials and was put under a stop work order last Friday.

“I’m out here to make this right,” Haig Buchakjian of Brixmor told the Planing Board. “Things will be different now.”

“We’ve had a lot of problems with this property,” Planning Board member Ed Densieski told Mr. Buckakjian.

That includes complaints from residents in the neighboring Foxwood Village and Millbrook Community developers about the clear cutting of the site in 2013, dust from sand blowing around and increased noise from the clear cutting, a fence and buffer that neighbors say didn’t buffer anything, a town code enforcement summons for illegally removing sand from the site, and most recently, a stop work order from the town on the grounds that Brixmor wasn’t building the project in conformance with its approved site plan.

Mr. Buchakjian said he was aware of the problems.

“I want to apologize to the board and to the entire township,” he said, acknowledging that there had been some “mishandling” of things by the people working on the site.

“I take responsibility for that personally,” he said. “I’m involved now. I’m going to make sure things happen right.”

Among the town’s complaints were that the amount of sand on the site was too much and that the developer would never be able to spread it around and still meet the elevations shown in the approved site plan.

In addition, Brixmor has been building just the 149,500 square foot Costco store, when the approved site plan was for a 270,000 square foot shopping center with several other buildings.

So far, the applicant hasn’t signed any other tenants, according to its attorney, Peter Danowski.

The developers also installed a stockade fence and berm along the northern boundary with Foxwood Village that neighbors there say it inadequate and doesn’t screen their homes from the development or the sand blowing on the site.

They also say, and the town confirmed, that the developer failed to plant 70 of the trees they proposed to build on the berm.

The stop work order was modified this week to allow Brixmor to work on the landscaping and the asphalt for Costco’s parking lot. Costco owns its lot separately and is building its store separate from Brixmor, which owns the shopping center site.

The agreement reached informally Thursday night calls for Brixmore to plant the 70 trees it didn’t previously plant in the berm and to replace any trees that have already died.

In addition, Brixmor has agreed to replace the stockage fence along the northern border with a six-foot high chain link fence with privacy slats.

This fence would be constructed along the border with Foxwood and Millbrook.

Previously, a four-foot high chain link fence had been proposed along the border with Millbrook, which is east of the development.

Also agreed to informally was a plan to spread the excess sand out on the part of the property south of the berm and north of the parking lot, so that the end result will be that the grade of this land will be three feet higher than originally proposed.

Brixmor had received approval for a “balanced cut and fill,” which means they would neither import nor export sand from the property, but rather, would spread it around to even the grade of the land.

Bill Duffy, the Planning Board’s attorney, said he will report to the town supervisor Friday that the Planning Board was receptive to the proposed changes, and then a determination will be made whether to lift the stop work order entirely.

The Planning Board also will need to formally adopt the changes it informally agreed to Thursday night in a resolution, which might not happen for two weeks. That resolution will include a provision allowing the developers to build just the Costco store for the time being, Mr. Duffy said.

Foxwood Village resident Robert Hall said at this point, he’s reluctant to believe anything he’s being told by these developers until he sees it. He said Mr. Buchakjian, who has promised to make things different “was here right from the beginning.”

Barbara Ross, a Foxwood Village resident who lives near the fence, said she believes the chain link fence will be more effective then the wooden stockage fence.

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