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Planning Board votes down site plan for proposed propane storage facility

In a split vote last Thursday, the Riverhead Planning Board voted down a preliminary site plan for a proposed propane storage facility on Kroemer Avenue.

The same proposal had received special permit approval from the Town Board on Sept. 15, 2020, leaving it in limbo now as the next step remains unclear.

Planning Board members Stan Carey, George Nunnaro and Richard O’Dea voted no while Ed Densieski and Joe Baier voted yes. 

The members did not elaborate on the reasoning for their votes.

Following the vote, Martin Sendlewski, the architect on the application, requested that board members provide a written reason explaining their reasons for the votes.

“The reason can’t just be that it’s too much gas,” he said. “I want a reasoned elaboration of your findings.” He threatened to take legal action and noted those findings would be used in an Article 78 lawsuit.

The proposal, called 48 Kroemer Avenue, LLC, and headed by Frank Fisher of Westhampton Beach, calls for demolishing an existing building on the site and constructing an approximately 240,000 gallon liquid propane facility in eight 30,000-gallon tanks, along with a 38,472-square-foot industrial building on a four-acre site on Kroemer Avenue.

Mr. Fisher said the application is more than four years old. 

“I’ve been in the propane business for many years and I am growing,” he said. “I need this plant to expand and to grow. Right now, all the big companies are buying up the plants. They are monopolizing them.

“I don’t want to move. I want to stay here. I have two kids, ages 7 and 9. And I want to stay here on the island.”

Ray Dickhoff, the builder on the project, said the eight-foot long, thousand-gallon tanks currently on the property are empty. Their business installs empty propane tanks at customer’s homes and buries them in the ground. They are not filled with propane until they are buried.

An issue at dispute on the proposal centered around whether adequate information was provided from the applicant to the Riverhead Fire District.

Jonathan Brown, an attorney representing the Riverhead Fire District, disputed the applicant’s claim that the fire district was involved in discussions on the project, saying that was “inaccurate.” 

Mr. Carey, a member of the Riverhead Fire Department, also disputed that the applicant met with the fire chiefs on the project. 

Mr. Sendlewski said that information from the chiefs was forwarded to them by mail. 

“On Oct. 16, 2020, I wrote on behalf of the fire commissioners requesting information about this proposal. We received no response,” Mr. Brown said. “I wrote again on April 26 of this year, requesting information regarding this proposal and we received their fire safety analysis on May 6, which was the day of the last hearing. We received the March 25 version of the site plan after the fourth review by the fire marshal on June 1.”

Mr. Brown said “the Chiefs’ involvement in this matter was nothing more or less than responding to a questionnaire that was provided by the applicant regarding manpower consideration that needed to be completed at the fire department. The district is the governing body of the fire department. The request was made by the fire commissioners directly to the town to the fire marshal and we did not receive a response.” 

He asked that the application be delayed until they have more time to review the application. 

Mr. Sendlewski countered that the commissioners are elected by the public and are not required to have any expertise in firefighting. 

“A fire commissioner could be a housewife or an accountant or a civic person,” Mr. Sendlewski said.”They are not required to have any fire safety training.”

“Every single fire commissioner is an ex-chief” in Riverhead, Mr. Carey said. 

Mr. Dickhoff said he made at least a dozen calls to the fire chief “without the courtesy of a call back.”

He added, “for four months, I waited to get answers to our questions.”

Mr. Brown said the letters he sent to the applicant were copied to the town fire marshal, the Town Board, the building department, the planning board and the chiefs and commissioners. 

Mr. Sendlewski said he and his clients were at the fire commissioners meeting Tuesday and the commissioners didn’t ask a single question of them about their proposal.