Town At Dead Stalemate Over Zoning To Green Light Community Center

The proposed Family Community Life Center hit a wall in Riverhead Thursday.

Tempers ignited Thursday as some members the town board lashed out at a discussion over zoning that would pave the way for a proposed $60 million Family Community Life Center they said never should have been scheduled.

And when the dust settled, the project, which has been in the planning stages for over 20 years, stalled again, with no new public hearing scheduled.

"You have a lot of work to do," Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter told Reverend Charles Coverdale and his wife Shirley, who have spearheaded the project with the First Baptist Church of Riverhead.

It was the second time in recent weeks that discussion revolving around the proposed Family Community Life Center in Riverhead got heated at a town board work session Thursday.

The board met to discuss suggested changes to zoning legislation that would pave the way for the proposed Family Community Life Center before the matter can be scheduled for another public hearing.

The proposed complex, planned for almost 20 years by the First Baptist Church of Riverhead, encompasses a 68,830 square foot "community benefit district," including a community pool, media center/theater, a 24-hour childcare facility, a senior citizen wellness and day care center, and a sports and recreational compound. In addition, the plan calls for 132 one- and two-bedroom apartment units to frame the center complex, that would be used for workforce housing.

The facility would be sited on a 12-acre Northville Turnpike site owned by the church.

An outpouring of support came from all corners of the community during the first public hearing, as the Riverhead town board considered passing legislation for a new overlay zoning district that’s needed before the project can move forward.

But in a later town board work session, some board members raised concerns and Deputy Town Attorney Bill Duffy brought revisions back to the board for review this week.

Some of the changes involved new wording regarding the definition of workforce housing so it would align with the county's, as suggested by Councilwoman Jodi Gigio.

A proposed 800 feet of road frontage requirement was removed.

Walter said wording should be put back in stating that a project should hook up to the town's sewer district, or be within a reasonable district of the sewer district, despite some protest from board members who suggested the decision be made when Giglio, who was absent, could weigh in.

At Thursday's meeting, both Councilmen John Dunleavy and George Gabrielsen protested strongly that the discussion was even scheduled without Giglio, who has been absent due to the illness of her young daughter.

"You've put us in a tough spot," Gabrielsen said. "I'm not going to vote for any public hearing today."

Walter said he had promised to keep scheduling the discussion every week until a resolution was reached. Dunleavy countered that the matter was not on the agenda last week, when Walter had a meeting in Albany.

"Councilwoman Giglio should be here," Gabrielsen said again.

Walter said there was no way to know how long Giglio would be unable to attend and said the wheels of government must continue to turn.

"You're putting us at a very bad disdvantage," Dunleavy said. "This is an injustice to our town council."

"A split board is a split community," Gabrielsen added. "With something this important, I'd like a majority."

Councilman Jim Wooten said he'd like to see the changes that had been made to the draft legislation; Walter suggested they be reviewed line by line.

Changes to the draft included definitions for indoor recreational facilities, as well as wording that ensures the recreational component be built at the same time as the housing.

Other additions state that every community center should have indoor recreational facilities, according to Deputy Town Attorney Bill Duffy.

Other changes previously discussed, he said, was that there would be no community benefit district zoning in an agricultural protection zone.

The board agreed that there should be a minimum 100 feet of road frontage.

Gabrielsen he had reservations based on the fact that he'd heard that the applicants' intention had been to only build part of the recreational facility in the first phase.

Guy Germano, attorney for FCLC, said the intent had always been to build the community center at the beginning. "The community center is what's driving this," he said.

A complete standstill came with the tax issue arose. As a non-profit, the project would be tax-exempt, a burden Gabrielsen, Dunleavy, and Giglio — when she was present — said was a major concern.

Dunleavy added the density was too heavy for the area.

Walter said, contrary to what Dunleavy suggested, he was not looking to "bail out" the county, but if Enterprise Park at Calverton's future was ever to take shape, workforce housing was critical.

"No one can deny the impact of this on the taxpayers," Gabrielsen said.

The supervisor said he believed the tax impact would be positive and said the center would provide services the town could no longer afford to provide, such as programs for those with Alzheimer's.

Wooten said he believe the zoning was in the right place, and like Walter, would support another public hearing.

Gabrielsen and Dunleavy said the tax issue was a deal breaker and they would not support moving forward.

"You've got your answer," Walter told the Coverdales. "I don't want to keep torturing this. You've got your work cut out for you."


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