A proposed Community Benefit Zoning District was greeted with almost unanimous support at a standing room only public hearing at Tuesday’s Riverhead Town Board meeting, as was the Family Community Life Center, First Baptist Church’s long-planned multi-use project that would need the new zoning to be enacted in order to move forward.
While many of the speakers spoke about the project itself, the hearing was technically about the zoning.
“It is the purpose of the Community Benefit District (CBD) to implement the recommendations of the Town of Riverhead Comprehensive Plan (2003) by permitting the construction of clustered multi-family rental dwelling units in a manner designed to meet the needs of a range of users who are presently underserved by the housing market, including young people entering the workforce, young families, and seniors,” the proposed zoning states.
“Such development is to be combined with an on-site community center and non-residential use(s) that, together or individually, provide an enhancement of not only the subject project for its residents but for the use, enjoyment and enhancement of the surrounding community as well.”
The First Baptist Church of Riverhead first proposed the Family Community Life Center more than 20 years ago and has remained committed to the project over the years, meeting with several different variations of the Town Board and most recently, the Riverhead School Board.
Proposed to be located on 12.5 acres of land owned by the church on Northville Turnpike, the FCLC calls for a 60,400-square foot community center complex containing a 24-hour childcare facility, a senior citizen and daycare center, a sports and recreation compound with an indoor swimming pool, basketball courts and a gym, a media center and theater.
The plan also calls for 100 one-bedroom apartments and 25 two-bedroom apartments that will provide workforce housing and professional offices according to Shirley Coverdale, the president and CEO of the nonprofit Family Community Life Center.
The YMCA of Long Island is “committed to exploring a partnership with Family Community Life Center in Riverhead as a location to expand the YMCA’s Long Island facilities,” according to a letter from Anne Brigis, the president and CEO of YMCA of Long Island.
The Rev. Charles Coverdale, the pastor of First Baptist, said after the hearing that the project would be tax exempt, but that FCLC would make an annual payment in lieu of taxes, the amount of which would be subject to negotiations. That was one of the issues that has stalled the project in the past, and was the main reason noted by one school board member for not supporting the project recently.
The proposed Community Benefit Zone would be an overlay district that could be located anywhere that meets the criteria set forth in the zone.
That criteria requires a minimum of 10 acres; frontage on a state or county highway of at least 800 feet; water district and sewer district connection; and sufficient area for parking, buffer yards, landscaping and open space requirements.
Permitted uses in the zone would all require a special permit from the Town Board and would include one-family dwelling units with professional offices; a community center, day care and nursery school; recreational uses such as parks and playgrounds, a swimming pool and outdoor sports facilities, and houses of worship.
In addition, the proposed zone requires that 100 percent of the dwelling units be sold or rented at state or federal workforce housing standards.
The community center would be required to be made available to the public.
The zoning allows one dwelling unit per acre, as of right, but also allows the number of units to be increased through the purchase of farmland development rights, at a rate of one additional dwelling unit per preservation credit redeemed.
Among the people and organizations that supported the Community Benefit zone and/or the FCLC at Tuesday’s hearing were the Long Island Regional Planning Board, the YMCA of Long Island, the Long Island Builders Institute, Family Service League, the Southampton Youth Association, Suffolk County National Bank President Howard Bluver, Suffolk Community College president Dr. Shaun McKay, The Long Island Federation of Labor, the Long Island Council of Churches, Edgar Goodale of Riverhead Building Supply, Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Peconic Bay Medical Center.
“We need multi-family housing in Riverhead,” Mr. Bluver said. “If you look at the Long Island towns that are succeeding, it’s the ones that recognized this.”
“This would also provide youth with activities that are somewhat lacking in this area,” resident and Riverhead School District teacher Vanessa Williams said. “If children don’t have options, they find options, which are not necessarily ones we’d like them to have.”
Connie Lassandro of Baiting Hollow stressed the need for affordable rentals in Riverhead.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Nassau and Suffolk are the most expensive counties in the country and a wage of $33.04 per hour is needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment at the fair market rent of $1,718 set by the federal Housing and Urban Development agency, she said.
The median income for Nassau and Suffolk is $109,000, but for Riverhead, its $76,210, which makes it even more difficult to afford rent, she said.
“High housing costs are greatly burdening Long Island, ” she said. “Long Island is in desperate need of multi-family housing.”
The only thing close to criticism came from Phil Barbato, the president of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, and Laura Jens-Smith of Laurel, who ran for Town Council last fall.
Mr. Barbato said the proposal, which would apply to other areas besides the Family Community Life Center, “has not been adequately described, explained or evaluated.”
The Town Board ended the hearing without taking action on the proposal.
When the proposal last came before the board in late 2013, it did not have three board members in support. The proposed zoning that was the subject of Tuesday’s hearing is the same as what was being previously considered, according to Supervisor Sean Walter, who supports the zoning and the project.
There has been only one change on the Town Board since then. Councilman George Gabrielsen, who opposed the zoning along with Councilman John Dunleavy and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, was replaced by Tim Hubbard, who just took office in January and has not stated a position on the proposed zoning yet.