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Board Puts Brakes On New Review of Proposed Assisted Living Facility Plan

Supervisor Sean Walter said the project is critical for Riverhead's aging population.

Dreams for a proposed assisted living facility in Riverhead have been put on the back burner -- at least, for now.

At Thursday's 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 back before the commission. Councilmen Jim Wooten and George Gabrielsen, as well as Councilwoman Jodi 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, on 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."

Gabrielsen said the planning commission did not kill the zoning. "They killed the project. "This particular project is not affordable for the Town of Riverhead."

Councilman Jim Wooten said the discussion did not have to be "contentious" and he liked the idea that individuals who were not in elected posts were making decisions.

"We support the concept of assisted living," Wooten said. "This application is too site specific. Some concerns listed in their report are, to me, valid." 

Dunleavy and Walter agreed that the board knew the location -- which Giglio and Gabrielsen said is surrounded by farms -- during the months when the discussion was taking place.

But, Giglio said, the 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.

Wooten said while he's an advocate for the legislation and believes a facility for seniors is important to Riverhead, "I don't want my advocating for that type of legislation to be hooked into a specific project."

Other locations, he said, should be considered. "I support the concept a thousand percent," he  added.

And, Wooten said, the concerns of the Suffolk County Planning Commission should be addressed.

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."

Regarding financial concerns over affordability, Walter said when an elderly relative reached that point, there were options including insurance, Medicaid and Medicare.

"That person is going somewhere," he said. "Somebody is going to pay. They're going someplace, so why wouldn't you put it close to home?"

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.

He added, regarding financial concerns, that many seeks assisted living facilities after selling their homes. "It's another stage in their lives." 

Giglio said the zoning had been misinterpreted as to yield.

Of refering the application back to the Suffolk County Planning Commission, she said, "Why waste everyone's time when it's too intense for the community."

When Walter asked again if there were three votes to bring the application to the Suffolk County Planning Commission again, the measure was voted down.

"Not at this time," Giglio said.

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.

Dunleavy said that although the zone change would result in greater lot density than current zoning allows, the change would represent a significant community benefit.

“When older people can no longer live alone, we want them to be able to remain in town near family and friends,” Dunleavy said.

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.

Unlike Peconic Landing, residents at the Concordia project would rent, not purchase, their units. “It will be for people who no longer want the burden of home ownership,” DeVito said. 

And unlike Peconic Landing, Concordia’s facility would not include a skilled nursing facility - a need, DeVito said, that could be competently met by Peconic Bay Medical Center’s existing skilled nursing facility and other nursing homes in town.

DeVito said in 2010 his Riverhead campus would contain 100 units.

Roughly half would be for independent living in the form of single-family attached residences, each measuring 1,200 square feet. He said the units would not contain kitchens but that central dining services would be available.

Thirty would consist of what DeVito described as “enriched housing,” targeted to residents requiring “moderate assistance.” The remaining 20 would provide “assisted living,” offering what DeVito called “higher levels of care.”

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.”

“Without that mix, it’s very difficult to make those higher levels of care affordable, and that’s the purpose for the combination,” DeVito said.

The town board adopted new legislation allowing for assisted living facilities in June.

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