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After 24 years, Family Community Life Center plans take step forward

Rev. Charles Coverdale thanks the Town Board Tuesday evening. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

First Baptist Church of Riverhead’s plans for a Family Community Life Center moved forward Tuesday when the Riverhead Town Board approved the creation of a type of zoning needed for the proposal. 

While that drew a round of applause from the many supporters of the project in attendance at the meeting, Supervisor Sean Walter cautioned afterward that the church still has “a lot of work to do” before its decades old plan becomes a reality.

The Northville Turnpike center, which was first proposed 24 years ago, is a 60,000-square foot development 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; and a media center and theater.

The plan also calls for 100 one-bedroom apartments and 25 two-bedroom apartments that would provide workforce affordable housing and professional offices on 12.5 acres of land owned by the church.

The floating zone was approved Tuesday night by a 3-2 vote, with Councilman John Dunleavy and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio opposed, is an overlay district that can be placed anywhere meeting certain criteria. These include requirements for at least 10 acres, frontage on a state or county highway of at least 800 feet, and water district and sewer district connection.

The Community Benefit District overlay zone allows one residential unit per acre, but it also allows the number of units to be increased if the applicant buys farmland development rights from agricultural land deemed for preservation in the town. Additional residential units can also be acquired through the acquisition of Suffolk County Workforce Housing Development Rights, which uses development rights of farmland already preserved by Suffolk County to increase housing density on affordable housing plans. Under both scenarios, each additional unit would require one credit.

In this case, 13 units could be built without preservation credits, but in order to build 126 units, an addition 113 credits would be needed. The cost of development rights ranges from $60,000 to $90,000 per unit, which means it could cost at least $6.7 million for 113 credits.

However, if the county chooses to allocate the Workforce Housing credits it already has for use in the FCLC, First Baptist could be spared some that cost.

County Executive Steve Bellone has spoke favorably of the project in the past.

In voting against the new zone, Ms. Giglio said, “I feel the need exists for the Community Life Center, but 10 units per acre is too intense of a development in a residential zoning.”

She said the zoning also doesn’t say how big the required community center has to be proportionate to the amount of units.

She also said the option of using county credits instead of preserving farmland within the town, circumvents the intent of the town’s transfer of development rights program.

“This is spot zoning,” Mr. Dunleavy said in explaining his vote. “How many community life centers are going to be built in the town of Riverhead? I can’t see 126 apartments and business offices in a complex that pays no taxes.”

Pastor Charles Coverdale of First Baptist Church has said there could be a negotiated payment in lieu of taxes, but that the church is tax exempt. He thanked the board after the vote.

“I know that for the board, some of these issues dealing with the Community (Benefit) Development District has been a difficult decision,” he said. “However I’d like to thank those who voted for it for at least giving the opportunity to a committee and a group of people that were working hard for 24 years to bring something of excellence to the town of Riverhead.”

After the meeting, Mr. Walter said this is just the first step needed in the process of building the FCLC, which he has supported.

The proposal will now need to have the zoning actually applied to the 13-acre Northville Turnpike property, which will require a Town Board vote. Once that happens, it would also need site plan approval from the town Planning Board, which would likely require an environmental impact study. It also will need to acquire farmland development rights credits from either the town or county.

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Photo: Rev. Charles Coverdale thanks the Town Board Tuesday evening. (Credit: Tim Gannon)