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Zone Change Proposed to Permit Assisted Living Facilities

Melville-based firm has plans to build "continuum of care" complex on 25 acres behind Home Depot.

A proposal for a change 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 Tuesday afternoon.

Though most of the concerns raised and recommendations made were relatively minor and some very technical in nature – such things as lot coverage and the formula for the purchase of development rights to achieve greater density -- Supervisor Sean Walter called for the creation of a small working group comprised of all interested parties to look into all aspects of a zone change. 

“We need such facilities, and we need to have our codes work,” he said.

The idea of a zone change is timely because Melville-based Concordia Senior Communities is 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.

Ronald DeVito, Concordia’s president, said he is already 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 has in mind.

The zone change and Concordia’s proposal have been , 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 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.”

DeVito said that although these are his plans at the moment, he is still waiting for more information from the 2010 census, which may change how he configures his proposed project.

Concordia, DeVito said, would also establish in-home assisted living services for town residents who don’t 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.

On the working group Walter wants to assemble, he said it will be critical for the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps to have a seat at the table because the corps is already over-burdened by the existence of eleven over-55, senior citizens subdivisions in town, with a twelfth on the drawing boards.

Though the Concordia complex would not have its own ambulance service, DeVito said his company would be willing to assist the ambulance corps in other ways – for example, by financing the expansion of the corps’ existing ambulance barn on Obsborn Avenue, something that Walter described as greatly needed.

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