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Residents outline concerns about pile driving at proposed apartment complex

The potential impact on the Riverhead School District and on some historic neighboring properties were two of the issues speakers said should be studied in an environmental impact study on a 170-unit apartment complex proposed on the former Sears site in Riverhead.

The suggestions came during a scoping session on the project Tuesday.

Speakers pointed out that pile driving work done in connection to an apartment project adjacent to the Sears site allegedly caused vibrations in three 100-year-old buildings across the street and caused damage within those buildings.

The Riverhead United Methodist Church, its adjacent Parsonage, and the home of Arlene Doroszka next door all sustained damages from the pile driving, according to their owners.

David Gallo, the developer of the adjacent property, called Riverview Lofts, has maintained that the pile driving is not what caused the damage.

Riverhead Town Historian Georgette Case, who is a member of the Riverhead United Methodist Church, raised concerns that pile driving on the new apartment project could not only cause further damage to the church properties and to Ms. Doroszka’s house, it also could damage some historic buildings on the nearby East End Arts Council property.

“As the town historian, I want you to be aware that these buildings are precious to the town, and I want the builders to be aware that we need to preserve the precious things we have in this town,” Ms. Case said.

Janine Zeltmann, a Trustee at Riverhead United Methodist Church, said the town should require the developer to identify what type of pile driving they plan to use and should request a different type than what Riverview Lofts used.

“We don’t want our church buildings or those of our neighbor to sustain more damage due to another project coming to town,” she said.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said the pile driving issues is a “grave concern.”

An engineering firm had originally recommended that Riverview Lofts use a “helical” system for pilings, which essentially screws them into the ground, rather than pounds them in.

But that was later switched because the developer discovered that longer piles were needed, according to Mr. Gallo.

The new application, listed under the name 203-213 East Main Street, calls for the construction of a 186,422-square-foot, five-story, mixed use building with 170 apartments, three retail stores and a mostly underground parking garage on 1.42 vacant acres that once housed Sears and several other stores.

The land is owned by Riverhead Enterprises, which is in contract to sell it to the Metro Group Properties, headed by Robert Muchnick.

The project calls for 32 studio apartments, 85 one-bedroom apartments and 53 two-bedroom apartments, along with 88 parking spaces.

The project is directly next door to Riverview Lofts, which is being built by Georgica Green Ventures. That project calls for 116 units of “workforce” rentals along with retail and two restaurants on the ground floor.

Since Riverview Lofts was being built in a flood plain, it was required to be built on about 550 pile-ons to stabilize the ground. The Metro Group project is also in a flood plain.

“There are many concerns in the community of buildings of this size,” said Councilman Tim Hubbard. “There’s things that need to be addressed, like number of school children that may be living there that will increase the enrollment of our already overburdened school district.”

He also said the number of parking spaces proposed is far less that what’s needed.

Mr. Muchnick said he is aware the town is considering a change to the zoning code that would require new developments in the downtown public parking district to provide their own parking. Currently, businesses in the parking district can use the public parking lots downtown as their parking.

He said they have a proposed alternative plan that would redesign the project at great expense and would provide one parking space per unit.

“We want to be proactive,” he said.

Ann Cotten DeGrasse, a former Riverhead School Board president, said an $80 million bond issue was “supposed to put the school district in good stead for 80 years”, but instead, the district is already “bursting at the seams.”

“Every time you add one of these apartment complexes, it’s going to exacerbate the problem,” she said.

Other issues brought up include the visual impact of the buildings, the potential for flooding and the cumulative impact of having so many large apartment complexes downtown.

Charles Voorhis, a consultant for the applicant, said there will be detailed fiscal and economic work and analysis that will look into the issues brought up at the hearing.

Photo caption: Developer Robert Muchnick at Tuesday’s scoping session. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

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