Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter met with some pushback on Wednesday at a town board work session when he tried to move forward with scheduling a public hearing on a proposal put forth by the First Baptist Church of Riverhead for a long-planned community center that would include rental units.
Plans for the Family Community Life Center, which would be located on a 12-acre Northville Turnpike parcel owned by the First Baptist Church of Riverhead, include a community center, which would include a swimming pool, performing arts center, childcare facility, adult day care center, fitness center, classrooms, walking paths -- and affordable housing units.
The plans call for 132 units, with 12 units per acre; Walter said Thursday 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 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."
Dunleavy said if young people are leaving the area, it's because no jobs are available on the East End; high-paying careers exist in New York City and other areas, he said.
"It's both," Walter said. "It's the fact that you don't have housing stock people can afford."
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.
"We're not even there yet," Walter said. "We're here today to discuss the density."
Giglio said Riverhead Industristrial 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.
Walter told the board to come to the next town board work session ready with a list of questions for the First Baptist Church of Riverhead. A meeting will also be scheduled between board members, the town assessor, and representatives of the church to discuss the matter further within the next two weeks.
"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."
Walter said the issue was reflective of a growing problem on Long Island. "Not every kid can afford two acres on a farm," he said -- and the goal is to keep young people on the East End. "To make that a reality, town boards have to talk about increasing density per acre."
Wooten said Riverhead has a "unique" character. Dunleavy pointed out that the town has over 1000 acres preserved, including a disparity between bucolic Sound Avenue and bustling Route 58.
"I just want to get to the public hearing," Walter concluded.