Guest Spot: The right prescription for a broken community

An artist rendering of the main atrium at the Family Community Life Center's recreational and other facilities.
An artist rendering of the main atrium at the Family Community Life Center’s recreational and other facilities.

Families are the heart of the community, but Riverhead is heartsick. With the establishment of a Community Benefit District proposed by the Family Community Life Center, residents of Riverhead will have an unprecedented opportunity to support a project of regional significance in their midst that will create jobs, spur economic development and provide numerous valuable and healing family services not currently available to the taxpayers of our community.

The FCLC project was declared “regionally significant” in a unanimous vote by members of the Long Island Regional Planning Council of Nassau and Suffolk after consideration of the numerous regional strategic priorities that the project addresses, including the following.

Increase mixed-use developments in Long Island downtowns and near LIRR stations.

• A mixed-use permanent facility on 12.5 acres of land owned outright by First Baptist Church of Riverhead. The church is donating the land to the project as equity.

• Open to the public for year-round use, 60,400 square feet of civic space will feature a community of buildings connected around a main atrium, including a 24-hour childcare facility, a senior citizen wellness and day care center, a major compound for sports and recreation and a media center/theater.

• Apartment units — 100 one-bedroom and 25 two-bedroom — frame the center complex, providing the community with critically needed work force, next generation and empty nesters’ rental housing.

The project site is located on a bus route 1.7 miles from the downtown Riverhead LIRR station. Borne out of a documented community need and an ongoing public outcry for civic space, the project will provide youth with a safe gathering place and constructive activities. The project will provide working parents with safe and affordable child care alternatives and our most fragile residents — the elderly — will have a safe haven in which to spend the day, giving peace of mind to family caregivers whose employment forces them to leave these elders alone and unsupervised. Families will have a state-of-the-art facility in which to enjoy seminars, cultural and artistic performances.

Create a cohesive education and workforce training strategy through partnerships among a range of stakeholders.

The project already enjoys the support of many stakeholders, including Suffolk County, Stony Brook University, St. Joseph’s College, Suffolk Community College, Suffolk County National Bank, Peconic Bay Medical Center, Riverhead Building Supply, 1199 SEIU UHE, Long Island Building Trades, Long Island Builders Institute and the Long Island Farm Bureau.

The building trades unions are eager to take advantage of meaningful jobs for local members and apprenticeship programs. Area workers will be retrained, expanding the green workforce to build a large-scale project that will respect the importance of Long Island’s estuaries. Several area educational institutions plan to incorporate student interns into our permanent programs to develop capable elder care and child care professionals, social workers and health care professionals.

Reduce our carbon footprint.

Our facility will be built “green.” We will implement several cleaner, greener strategies including solar and co-generation of our own electric power, using the cost savings to help sustain the programs of the community center and provide maximum inclusiveness for all of the area’s families. We will implement measures to decrease pollutants from stormwater runoff through use of permeable surfaces, living roofs, living walls and vegetative buffers that recapture and utilize otherwise wasted rainwater. Taking advantage of rooftop farm initiatives, we will implement farm-to-table nutrition for participants in our day care programs.

Emergency preparedness.

Of key importance in a post-Sandy Long Island, our project will create a large, centralized place where families affected by major weather emergencies can gather safely for short-term temporary shelter.

Revitalize downtowns, blighted neighborhoods and commercial centers, and create affordable housing.

A study released by the New York State Association for Affordable Housing and HR & A Advisors states the following: “An average 100-unit project in the state generates:

• 175 jobs during construction and sustains 20 jobs permanently;

• $9.6 million in compensation during construction, sustaining $1.3 million in compensation annually;

• $29.6 million in economic spending during construction, including $15.5 million of public and private investment in development, and $14.1 million in economic spinoff activity, including spending on materials and services; and

• $3.6 million in ongoing economic activity annually.”

Our county executive endorses the project. He gave Riverhead nearly $8 million for sewer capacity expansion to allow for projects like the Family Community Life Center. Suffolk County committed nearly 100 open space credits — for which they paid Riverhead farmers real dollars — to move the project forward. The project will be funded through the use of private equity instruments, including investment and new market tax credits; the return of after-tax dollars to the Riverhead community in the form of county, state and federal grants; donations from corporate and private foundations; fundraising and individual gifts; and not local property taxes. Despite our tax-exempt status, despite the net positive tax benefit of the project and despite the fact that the cost of providing all of the aforementioned public benefits constitutes an implicit value-added or “ad valorem” tax to us, we have also agreed to make payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT).
So, why are Riverhead families being deprived?

Shirley Coverdale is president and CEO of the Family Community Life Center.