In an effort to keep the town's aging population near their friends and family - as opposed to seeking assisted living elsewhere if and when the need arises - Councilman John Dunleavy on Thursday proposed a draft code amendment which would raise the number of parcels in town allowing assisted living communities.
Currently, the number of parcels in town allowing for such facilities is nearly maxed out. The only remaining parcels - of which there are two - sit in between Middle Road and Reeves Avenue.
"We have a very large senior citizen population in Riverhead," Dunleavy said. According to the Census Bureau, in 2009, persons age 65 and over made up 18.5 percent of the town's population - exactly the same as 2000. The national average in 2009 was 12.9 percent.
"Now when people go to assisted living, they have to go to Greenport or west to Smithtown or Holbrook, areas like that," he added. "We want to put one in in Riverhead, so if someone has to go to assisted living, friends can visit them. Eighty-five year-old people don't want to go to Smithtown to visit anybody if they have problems driving."
In a preliminary discussion on the draft proposal, the board could not come to terms on where the best fit for a senior community might sit.
Deputy Town Attorney Anne Marie Prudenti cited the town's master plan, completed in 2003, which she said recommended that the town consider increasing its assisted living housing stock. Prudenti said the master plan recommended placing the facilities near downtown Riverhead, and/or in hamlet areas throughout town.
Supervisor Sean Walter, calling the master plan a "load of crap," disagreed.
"We have to do something, that's clear," he said. "But I don't like the master plan. I think the master plan has not done what it should have done ... it put intensive commercial shopping districts in the hamlet of Wading River and turned it into Route 58. Now the master plan is saying we should put in assisted living along the Route 25A business district. I'm so not in favor of this, it isn't even funny."
Walter - a resident of Wading River - was, however, in favor of a downtown assisted living community so it could hook up to the town's sewer district. Anywhere else, he said, would be too intense a use; should an assisted living facility be built in a hamlet, it would most likely require construction of a sewage treatment facility, the supervisor said. While Walter admitted "mathematically, the sewer district is over capacity," he said, "functionally it's under capacity." By this he meant that units for future use that have not been constructed - specifically, "500 apartments" - are factored into the mathematical equation to define the district's capacity.
Dunleavy said that the uses listed in the draft proposal at the assisted living communities would allow for businesses not open to the general public, such as hair dressers, medical offices, pharmacies and banks, for seniors to easily access. In addition, open space and trails requirements - on parcels at least 25 acres in size - would give the appearance that the facilities would not be invasive on the community. The board hinted that the parcel size may be changed in the final draft.
Councilwoman Jodi Giglio asked that the town's geographic information systems department depict on a map the number of parcels within reach of the sewer district which would be able to contain the proposed facilities.
Town Plans to Join East End Towns in CPF Committee
At the request of South Fork Assemblyman Fred Thiele, I - Sag Harbor, Prudenti drafted an inter-municipal agreement which would create a Peconic Bay CPF Joint Town Coordinating Committee, which the town board seems ready to enter.
The committee, Prudenti said, would allow the towns to come together and receive non-binding interpretations of the complex and sometimes ambiguous Community Preservation Fund law. The CPF is a two percent tax on real estate transfers, the proceeds of which are placed into a fund for land preservation. According to Prudenti, interpretation of the law has allowed East End towns to purchase historic structures, which have kept community's characters in tact.
However, grumblings of CPF abuses in East Hampton and Southampton were noted amongst board members. East Hampton was directed by the state to reimburse the CPF fund after offsetting costs in its highway and police departments from 2004-2008. Southampton residents who are part of the Riverhead Central School District recently saw a large spike in its school taxes because the town used too much CPF money in past years to pay the RCSD, Walter said.
The hope of the joint oversight committee is to prevent such misuses, though ultimately the committee's decisions are non-binding.
Seasonal Beach Permits Steady With Year-Round Permit Revenue
After deciding to make this year's beach permits seasonal - necessary from Memorial Day through Labor Day - as opposed to year round, Recreation Department Supervisor Ray Coyne noted no noticeable change in revenue for the town. Coyne said permit revenue totals - $137,000 last year, he said - have been within five percent year over year, "some up, some down."
However, the town board was split on whether offering seasonal passes should become permanent.
Councilmen Jim Wooten and Dunleavy considered not charging beach access year-round subsidizing the beach users during winter months. Councilman George Gabrielsen and Councilman Jodi Giglio, on the other hand, noted that the police are receiving floods of phone complaints in the summer on the beaches, but few, if any, during winter months. As a result, they argued non-residents, coming to Riverhead on a fall or spring trip, should be able to walk the beaches without worrying about a $100 ticket.
Wooten, an ex-cop, said police rarely enforce beach permits during the off-season.
Walter, trying to find a compromise, suggested lowering the fine for using the beach without a beach pass, though Coyne said it would encourage those who come during the summer to not purchase a beach permit.