Tempers flared after a resolution that would have sent an application for the proposed Concordia Senior Community back to the Suffolk County Planning Commission for review was voted down, 3-2, at Thursday's town board meeting.
"This is a tough day for seniors," said Councilman John Dunleavy, after the vote. Of the three town board members -- Councilman Jim Wooten, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio and Councilman George Gabrielsen, who voted down the reso -- Dunleavy added, "I don't know why they're against seniors," he said. "But we have to start someplace and this was a good start for assisted living."
At a recent town board work session, Town Supervisor Sean Walter voiced his support for an application for an assisted living facility put forth last year by Concordia Senior Communities, which has been proposing to build a for-profit “continuum of care” community on 25 acres that run north along Mill Road behind Home Depot on Route 58 and east to a farm on Middle Road.
"We need this," Walter said, adding that Riverhead needs to create a place for its aging residents.
The proposal, however, went before the Suffolk County Plannng Commission, which found problems and rejected the application.
Walter asked for a three-person majority to support bringing the application for a zone change back before the commission. Wooten, Gabrielsen, and Giglio all nixed the idea.
Walter said he found it "odd," how things at the Suffolk County Planning Commission transpired. The town's planning staff, he said, had written a resolution to support the application based on information gathering that had taken place.
"Then at the meeting, one representative of the town basically spoke out against it and it lost its vote," Walter said.
Because the Suffolk County Planning Commission denied the application, a supermajority of the town board would be necessary to move the project forward -- or, a three-person vote could refer the application back to the commission for review.
Gabrielsen said the town's planning board, based on various reasons including public health and transfer of development rights, was not looking favorably on the project.
Also, Gabrielsen, the question of affordabilty was critical -- with units renting for approximately $5000 to $6000 per month.
"This is what's problematic," Walter said. "We have an elected board that voted 5 to 0 to adopt the new assisted living zoning. We labored over this for two years. And one non-elected representative kills the entire project. I think that's wrong."
On Tuesday, Walter said the board's vote was "unfortunate. The town won't take the leap of faith to build the assisted lving community. When it came time to pull the trigger on placing zoning on the property, the got cold feet."
The parcel, Walter said, has not been a farm in approximately 20 years and, if not an assisted living facility, the land could be developed for housing.
"This sends the wrong messsage to people that may want to come to our community to bring good projects," Walter said. The Concordia plan, he said, was a $35 miliion construction project that would have created approximately 100 jobs and put residents back to work.
Looking ahead, Walter said he plans to "hold the feet to the fire of the three board members that defeated this" and ask them to come up with a solution. "Seniors deserve an answer," Walter said.
Gabrielsen said he had concerns over the proposed project's affordability and said he had learned that seniors on Medicaid and Medicare would not be accepted into the facility.
The supervisor, Gabrielsen, "did not do his homework. He does not know what he's pushing. I believe that 85 percent of seniors in this town could not afford to go there. It's the people that I'm concerned about. You just shut the door by not taking government assistance."
He said that the town's planning board also had concerns with the proposal.
Giglio said she voted "no" despite the fact that the assisted living legislation was adopted unanimously last year.
"This project is not affordable," she said. "The zone change was voted down by the Suffolk County Planning Commission primarily due to the agricultural protection zone and prime soils. We received a recommendation from the town planning board to revisit the text and make it affordable in accordance with Riverhead statistics."
Giglio said the board needs to take a harder look to ensure public benefit in exchange for increased density.
"In the twilight of their years, seniors I'm talking with are concerned with what their children and grandchildren will be left with when they are no longer here. We need to make sure we have affordable assisted living here in Riverhead," Giglio said.
Gabrielsen said at an earier meeting that the planning commission did not kill the zoning. "They killed the project. "This particular project is not affordable for the Town of Riverhead."
Wooten said Tuesday he voted against the resolution because the project was "too intense," with assisted living a smaller percentage to independent. "I feel to really address the aging in place and continuum care, we need to rewrite the legislation and spell out exactly what we are trying to create. The board recognizes the need; we disagree only on the specific project proposed, and if that addresses the needs of residents in our town."
Wooten said he did not feel ready to have the Suffolk County Planning Commission take a second look yet and would like to see the legislation go back to code revision first.
At the earlier work session, Giglio said she had not known the number of independent units -- which she said was 100. The density was a concern, she said.
Dunleavy said density was critical if the project was too be financially viable.
"The planning commission made me aware of things that I wasn't before," Gabrielsen said. For example, he said, he had not been aware of the wetlands in the area and the fact that the parcel features prime agricultural soil.
He added that the Suffolk Couny planning commission raised the same concerns as the town planning board.
Walter said he supported the location because at least 1500 to 2000 seniors were living in areas surrounding the parcel. "I'm sorry, but when your loved one needs to be in a nursing home -- to visit my mother I had to drive to Medford -- you want them close to home. It's wrong not to have this."
Keith Archer, attorney for applicant Ron DeVito, said there was some information -- including preservation of farmland on the parcel -- that the Suffolk County Planning Commission did not have before rendering their report.
The supervisor said he wanted the application to go before the Planning Commission with new information about the necessary transfer of development rights.
In January, the board discussed the application again, and said in order for the project to proceed, a transfer of development rights would be necessary.
in zoning to allow assisted living facilities in the Town of Riverhead for people over the age of 62 was the subject of a public hearing lasting nearly two hours.
DeVito, Concordia’s president, said he was in contract to purchase the property but that the sale is contingent upon approval of a zone change that would allow him to build the complex he had in mind.
The zone change and Concordia’s proposal were championed Dunleavy, who noted that no such facilities exist in Riverhead, despite a preponderance of elderly residents.
According to census projections, Riverhead, by the year 2014, will have a total population of 39,000, 8,000 of whom will be 65 years of age and over.
According to DeVito, his facility would be similar, but not identical to, Peconic Landing in Greenport, known as a “planned retirement community,” providing elderly residents with a graduated step of services, from independent living, to assisted living to skilled nursing.
Concordia, DeVito said, would also establish in-home assisted living services for town residents who did not live at his facility. These services would also be available to those living in independent housing units on Concordia’s campus.
DeVito, whose company established a similar facility in Melville several years ago, said that the operating margins for independent living units are so good that “they help us to subsidize other more expansive units to make them affordable.”
The town board adopted new legislation allowing for assisted living facilities in June.