A plan that could pave the way for an assisted living facility on Mill Road was largely opposed last night in Town Hall, as residents feared the impact of increased development at the site and farmers spoke out against the fact the future of agriculture as a viable industry in town could be sacrificed as a result.
The two-hour hearing at Wednesday’s Riverhead Town Board meeting was on Concordia Senior Communities’ proposal to change the zoning on a 25-acre parcel just north of Home Depot from its current “agricultural protection zone” to “retirement community zoning.” The change in zone would allow Concordia to build a 123,000 square foot building with 48 independent living units and 114 assisted living units, pending future approvals.
Aside from representatives of the developer and four members of the Long Island Builders Institute, only one other member public spoke in favor of the project — a business owner whose family owns the abutting property.
Speakers who opposed the zone change cited concerns about the size of the proposed facility, its impact on traffic and the fact that the town is currently in the town’s agricultural protection zone, and letting it be developed would be chipping away at that zone.
“Once that farmland is full of asphalt, it will never go back to being farmed,” said Marsha Kipperman of Middle Road. She said traffic there is already bad and suggested a better location for the facility at the Enterprise Park at Calverton.
“I’m not in favor of changing the zone so someone can come in and develop the property,” said William Rule of Middle Road.
The Greater Calverton Civic Association also opposed the plan, which they consider to be “flagrant disregard” for the town’s 2003 comprehensive plan, according to its president, Rex Farr, who called it “spot zoning.”
Several farmers said that the zoning the town developed exempts the applicant from having to use transfer of development rights, commonly known as the TDR program. The TDR program permits developers to build more on certain parcels in exchange for buying the right to develop on other farmland within the town in order to maintain its agricultural use in perpetuity.
Without TDR as a farmland preservation tool, “forget about farms in the future,” said Frank Beyrodt, a former Long Island Farm Bureau president.
Mr. DeVito and Councilman John Dunleavy, who has long supported the Concordia proposal, both argued that the land hasn’t been farmed in years.
One resident said it was last farmed in 1972.
Concordia recently reduced the size of its proposal from 189 units to 162 units and said it would voluntarily use TDR, which would require them to buy the necessary farmland credits needed for the 162 units. Farmers still expressed opposition that the zoning doesn’t require the use of TDRs.
Under the current zoning, only 10 homes could be built on the 25 acres, town officials said.
There were four speakers from the Long Island Builders Institute who spoke in favor of the zone change.
“Approval will provide much needed housing and medical care for over 160 families who desperately need this service,” said Will Hubbs of LIBI.
Otherwise, he said, those people will have to leave town to find assisted living.
Also speaking in favor was Dean Wilcox, who owns the horse farm just east of the 25-acre site.
That property is one of only four in the town, along with the Concordia site, that would meet the criteria for the RC zoning district, one of which is the need for at least 15 acres.
Asked by Supervisor Sean Walter if they would consider building an assisted living project on their land, Mr. Wilcox said, “I don’t believe my mom would, if you have to go through all this.”
The proposal was first made public at a 2010 Industrial Development Agency meeting and has yet to gain support from a Town Board majority, despite the fact that most officials agree the use is needed somewhere in the area.
Mr. Walter recently suggested that it be located in Riverside, which is in Southampton Town, and which a recent revitalization plan specifically singled out the need for assisted living.
Concordia CEO Ron DeVito said the town’s 2003 comprehensive plan update identifies the need for assisted living.
He said the Riverside site couldn’t be developed without building a new sewage treatment plant, and it would take at least five years to get approval for a sewage treatment plant.
The town’s zoning previously didn’t allow assisted living complexes such as the one proposed by Concordia until 2012, when it adopted the Retirement Community zone. The subject of Wednesday’s hearing was to change the 25 acres that Concordia is in contract to buy to the RC zoning district.
Even if the Town Board changes the zone, the project would still need site plan approval from the Town Planning Board.
The proposed “aging in place” facility would be restricted to people over age 65 who make 110 percent of the Riverhead median income, which is about $65,590, according to Mr. DeVito.
The rents, he said, would range from $3,200 to $5,000 per month.
The Town Board took no action on the proposal and agreed to hold the hearing open a month. Mr. Walter said afterwards that he believes the town will require the developer to do an environmental impact study on the project.
Photo credits: Tim Gannon