Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said he believes it's time to pray.
Walter will join the congregation of the First Baptist Church of Riverhead Saturday as they come together for a prayer vigil in support of an intergenerational and recreational facility planned for church property.
"I think it's great," Walter said, of the vigil. "It's time to appeal to a higher power."
Walter commended Reverend Charles Coverdale and his wife Shirley for years of work on the project. "I fully support what the Coverdales are doing," Walter said. "There's a huge need in the community for this. God put it on my heart to try and get this done."
Members of the First Baptist Church of Riverhead, which has pitched plans for the Family Community Life Center, a permanent facility that would be sited on a 12-acre Northville Turnpike site owned by the church, have been before the town board to discuss the project.
But so far, a site plan has not been approved by the town board and a public hearing on the proposal has not been scheduled.
To that end, a prayer vigil will be held at The First Baptist Church on Saturday from 10 to 11 a.m.
Riverhead Town Councilman Jim Wooten said the vigil was meant to bring awareness to the church's "desire and mission to build the Community Life Center." The prayer service, he said, "is to call upon a higher authority for guidance. Praying is what Christians do -- and it's not a bad thing."
"As we move closer toward securing the Riverhead town board approval critical to making this project a reality, we are asking for your prayerful support and attendance," Shirley Coverdale wrote, in a release announcing the event. "If you believe that prayer changes things, please come out and show your support."
The goal, Coverdale said, is to create a destination open to the public for year-round use.
The complex, a 68,830 square foot "community benefit district," would include buildings that would encompass a 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.
Coverdale said all of the FCLC facilities, including a pool, gymnasium, fitness center and indoor walking track, would be available for year-round use; the FCLC’s Community Benefit District, she said "will answer the many needs of the East End community by creating a hub where families can come together to learn, live, work and play."
In October, Walter tried to move forward with scheduling a public hearing on the proposal put forth by the First Baptist Church of Riverhead for a long-planned community center that would include rental units.
But while plans for the Family Community Life Center, call for 132 units, with 12 units per acre; Walter said in October that no more than 10 units per acre would be agreed upon.
In past meetings, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio called for eight units per acre; Giglio said Reverend Charles Coverdale and others involved with the project said eight units would not equate to an economically viable undertaking and 12 were necessary for the project to move forward. Walter said a consensus was reached at 10.
Rev. Coverdale did not immediately return a call for comment about whether 10 units per acre would be deemed acceptable.
Walter said his goal was to get the matter to the public hearing stage. "I think last time we discussed this, we were pretty close," he said.
Stumbling blocks remain, he said, in both the number of units per acre and the height of the building.
Councilman John Dunleavy asked whether principals involved with the project had ever spoken with the town's tax assessor to outline the details. Riverhead Assessor Laverne Tennenberg said at the time that they had not and that she needed more information to discuss the matter.
Walter said the need for affordable housing in town is critical. "We as a region, on Long Island, have five or six percent rentals," he said. "The rest of successful areas have 14, 15, 16 percent or higher. This is about trying to keep our youth here."
Riverhead's Peconic Avenue Summerwind project, a project that includes workforce housing and retail, along with similar concepts in Patchogue, Walter said, meet a growing need for young people just starting out."I think Summerwind will be wildly successful," he said. "Kids don't want to live in basement apartments. There's a demand for it. We owe it to the community and to Long Island as a whole to be looking at this."
Councilman George Gabrielsen questioned the financial burden of the proposed Family Community Life Center to taxpayers; the FCLC is a 501(c) 3 organization, and the rentals could possibly be tax exempt, he said.
Walter said if rental income was derived, a provision could be added to the code that rental units could not be tax exempt, but questions remained regarding the constitutionality of that concept.
Giglio said Riverhead Industrial Agency incentives exist to give individuals a reason to invest in blighted areas, "not to subsidize a place that's not subject to revitalization."
Walter said the area could "use an influx of new money." He then asked why the board was going backward when earlier, a consensus was close.
"Maybe you're leaping forward faster," Gabrielsen said. "We're not going backwards."
Dunleavy said if residents had questions, he wanted to be fully informed and able to give answers.
Councilman Jim Wooten said the board needed to be fully versed in the details before the matter went to public hearing.
Dunleavy asked whether the project represented "spot zoning," allowing for a community center and calling for a revision to a code and a zone change.
"This is a project that will forever change the entire face of Riverhead," Councilman Wooten said. "It's important we go in with our eyes wide open."
"I just want to get to the public hearing," Walter concluded in October.