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Town may require developers to use transfer of development rights on height requests

Developers of proposed warehouse properties in Riverhead Town have been seeking to build up, rather than out, officials say, which often saves them money.

As a result, Town Board members are now considering a proposal that would require developers to use transferred development rights in order to build at heights that exceed current zoning limits. 

The transfer of development rights program allows the building rights from land that the town seeks to preserve — such as farmland or open space — to be transferred to land where additional development is deemed to be appropriate. 

Riverhead’s TDR program was an attempt to help farmers after the town’s 2003 Comprehensive Plan upzoned the minimum lot size for farmland in the Agricultural Protection zone from one acre to two acres. 

“Farmers lost a huge amount of their land value,” said Jefferson Murphree, the town’s building and planning administrator, at last Thursday’s Town Board work session. “We need to offset that.”

A single development right costs about $65,000, according to Richard Wines, a member of the town’s TDR committee. 

Officials expressed concern that developers seeking additional height for a building will just apply to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Mr. Murphree said the town code needs to be amended but that the TDR proposal should be addressed before the town’s Comprehensive Plan update is completed, which could take a year. 

“We see an opportunity presenting itself at the present time and we feel it should be addressed now and not wait,” Mr. Murphree said. 

He said a number of warehouses are currently being proposed in industrial zones, mostly in Calverton. 

One of these, Riverhead Logistics Center, proposed by Northpoint Development of Missouri, would involve a 50-foot-tall building with a footprint of 641,000 square feet on about 40 acres off Middle Road. The height limit in this zoning category is 30 feet

This would result in a building that is 32,050,000 cubic feet, according to Mr. Murphree. If the same building adhered to the current 30-foot height limit, that number would be 19,230,000 cubic feet — almost 13 million less.

The Riverhead Logistics Center property was purchased in November 2021 for $6.95 million, according to Mr. Murphree, who said this equates to about $187,000 per acre. “The difference between the price which the developer paid for the land versus what it would cost to develop as-of-right is approximately $4.5 million,” he said. 

Another industrial proposal seeking greater height allowances is HK Ventures, planned for Route 25 in Calverton. That project calls for eight buildings with a maximum height of 38 feet each, and total footprint of 412,629 square feet.

The Planning Board approved an environmental impact statement for HK Ventures last month.

The Riverhead Logistics Center was also subject to a scoping hearing before the Riverhead Planning Board last Thursday. 

A scoping session gives the public an opportunity to identify issues they feel should be discussed at an environmental impact hearing. 

Most of the speakers were critical of the proposal, mainly due to the proliferation of industrial proposals in the same area. 

The scoping hearing has been held over to Thursday, Sept. 15, and the deadline for the final scope will now be Oct. 6. Chris Kent, attorney for the applicant, agreed to the extension because town officials were having difficulty understanding speakers on the Zoom platform.