Peconic Bay Medical Center is seeking town approval to convert a portion of the former P.C. Richards appliance store on Route 58 into a cancer care center.
The Riverhead Planning Board reviewed a site-plan application during a work session Thursday afternoon and may consider the application an ‘administrative’ approval, meaning no public hearing would be required.
Under the proposal, PBMC would convert 7,740 square feet of existing vacant space into an oncology center.
Part of the 21,156-square-foot building is currently occupied by ProHealth, which runs a radiation oncology office there.
Andrew Mitchell, president and CEO of PBMC, said the plan would be a “joint venture” with ProHealth and create a new realm of care for patients.
“They have the radiation oncology center that’s been there and we’ll be bringing in a major medical oncology infusion center and a comprehensive cancer program,” Mr. Mitchell said in an interview.
PBMC is currently leasing the site but Mr. Mitchell said the hospital would be willing to consider acquisition, should the owners decide to sell in the future.
Before those plans can materialize, PBMC must address a 23-space parking deficiency at the site, according to town planner Karin Gluth.
Though PBMC has proposed providing for those additional spaces at their current lot on Roanoke Avenue, Ms. Gluth said that town code requires parking to be located within 200 feet of walking distance to the premises.
“The plan lists that PBMC’s parking lot is 172 feet from the subject property, but when you actually go to the parking spaces, it’s significantly more,” Ms. Gluth said. She measured the distance to be well over 400 feet.
“The parking can be addressed,” Mr. Mitchell said, adding that there are several solutions that could resolve the issue.
Some of those solutions are dependent on whether the hospital pursues acquiring the neighboring Bishop McGann-Mercy High School property.
“I might be in negotiations, hopefully, with the Diocese [of Rockville Centre], to acquire the whole Mercy property,” Mr. Mitchell confirmed. “We’re trying to get discussions with the Diocese going.”
He declined to elaborate if any offers have been made, but noted that acquiring the property would be a game changer.
“If the Diocese would agree to sell Mercy to the hospital — so far they have not — everything changes,” he said.
Sean Dolan, director of communications for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday, but earlier this year he acknowledged that “several” entities have expressed interest in the property.
Citing growing enrollment, the Riverhead Central School District had also considered purchasing the Mercy property but announced earlier this month that they are no longer interested.
Mr. Mitchell also said PBMC is considering the purchase of “another large vacant property on [Route] 58,” to accommodate growing programs, but declined to provide specific details. “It’s very conceptual,” he said.
In the meantime, rather than require PBMC to seek a Zoning Board of Appeals variance, the Planning Board is considering measures to allow plans to continue while parking is addressed.
Planning Board attorney Richard Ehlers said one option is a covenant to require employees to park off-site for a set time frame while other ongoing issues are pending.
“Otherwise, they’d have to go to the ZBA at the end of that period,” he said.
According to Mr. Mitchell, off-campus employee parking is already in use at several locations in town, including Mercy, with a shuttle bus to transport employees.
Mr. Mitchell said they would be willing to cooperate with a timeline.
“Give me two years to work out the rest of it, because if we don’t get Mercy, we’re going to be back here talking [about parking] anyway,” he said.
“As soon as I can get clarity on whether the Diocese will sell Mercy to the hospital, everything else will fall into place.”
Planning Board member Ed Densieski said the Planning Board should do what they can to help the hospital move forward.
“The hospital is the anchor and cornerstone of the community. It would be awesome to have a timely cancer center put in,” he said.
Photo caption: The site where the oncology center would be located. (Credit: Tara Smith)