Construction is damaging downtown historic church and home, owners say

The owners of three century-old buildings in downtown Riverhead say pile-driving work going on at a five-story building under construction across the street is damaging their structures.

Riverhead United Methodist Church has hired an attorney and the engineering firm H2M Architects + Engineers to investigate. The other properties allegedly affected are the Methodist parsonage west of the church and the Doroszka home to its east. The buildings are all on the north side of East Main Street between Maple and East avenues.

“H2M has been out to inspect the property and the recommendation to the town is that they stop work across the street until we can come up with a solution to prevent the vibrations,” said Jonathan Brown, an attorney representing the church.

“The damage is already beginning, and the pile-driving is at the southern portion of the property, where they are now driving piles in,” Mr. Brown added. “They’re working their way towards the northern part of the parcel, so I imagine this is only going to get worse.”

The pile-driving work is being done for the Riverview Lofts apartments, a five-story, mixed-use development calling for 116 “workforce housing” apartments on the upper four floors plus two restaurants and 1,500 square feet of retail space on the ground level. It also calls for 55 parking spaces on the ground level.

The project received Riverhead Town Board approval last fall.

“Vibrations from the pile operations are causing the leveling support sands of the foundation wall to migrate and shift out of the wall,” the H2M report says. “Continued vibrations can cause the shifting and dislodging of the foundation stones, jeopardizing the structural integrity of the building foundation.

“Additionally, many areas throughout the church and parsonage building are showing signs of movement as observed by numerous cracks in the walls and ceiling.”

The church isn’t the only building that may be affected.

“I have some severe cracks,” Arlene Doroszka said. “What if this is just the beginning?”

She said she first noticed the cracks last week. The pile driving has been going on since early March, she said.

Ms. Doroszka said she has had an expert look at her home, and has called her insurance company.

Riverhead Town’s chief building inspector, Brad Hammond, has visited Ms. Doroszka’s home and the church.

“I did see some cracks of paint and seams and the like,” Mr. Hammond said in an interview. “I don’t think there’s any structural damage to worry about, but obviously, it’s a quality of life issue.”

“We’re going to take a wait-and-see approach and see where it goes from here,” he added.

David Gallo, president of Georgica Green Ventures, the developer of Riverview Lofts, did not return phone calls or an email seeking comment.

The H2M report further states: “Wainscot panels are cracking, pews are pulling away from their wall anchorage, wood panels of the balcony fascia have developed cracks, along with numerous cracks in the concrete masonry walls and ceiling finishes. Window and door frames show signs of movement, and very large stained-glass windows appear to be bowing from the vibrations.

“Based on the observances made during this site observation, the vibrations from the pile installation are causing the buildings to move and settle. Continued pile installation operations may result in a collapse of a foundation wall and/or wall components.”

The H2M report recommended that pile driving activity be stopped and vibration monitors be installed at the church. It also recommended that a protocol be established to minimize ground vibrations and “subsequent structural damage to adjacent structures.”

“If soil particle velocities cannot be managed, procedures shall be modified and changed, such as method of installation, type of pile, driving equipment, etc. before pile installations re-start,” the report said.“Failure to curtail the soil vibrations due to this construction may result in structural damage to these structures and thereby jeopardizing public health and safety.”

The three buildings are all included in the Downtown Riverhead Historic District, which is part of the National Register of Historic Places, according to Richard Wines, who heads the town’s Landmarks Preservation Committee.

Town historian Georgette Case said there is also a cemetery on the church property that includes a grave dating back to 1749.

The church was built in 1869, according to Mr. Wines, and the Parsonage in 1874.

The Doroszka house was built in 1902, according to both Mr. Wines and Ms. Case.

Photo caption: Large pile drivers used at the site of the Riverview Lofts apartments in downtown Riverhead have caused damage to the nearby Riverhead Methodist Church. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

[email protected]