Riverhead shelves First Baptist’s Community Life Center zoning change

An artist's rendering of the proposed Family Community Life Center
An artist’s rendering of the proposed Family Community Life Center

Despite broad support from federal, state and county government, it looks today like Riverhead’s First Baptist Church’s plan to build a workforce housing complex and community center on Northville Turnpike won’t leave the hands of the Riverhead Town Board any time soon.

Reverend Charles Coverdale and his wife, Shirley Coverdale, appeared before the Riverhead Town Board at a work session Thursday to hash out the details of the town’s proposed zoning change from residential to a “community benefit zoning district,” which would allow the 132-unit housing complex, which would include a 24-hour adult and child day care center and an Olympic sized swimming pool.

Though the project received a good deal of support from community members who appeared at a public hearing in early November, and has the support of Town Supervisor Sean Walter, board members John Dunleavy and George Gabrielsen said Thursday that, if it comes to a vote, they will vote against holding a second public hearing on an updated zoning change proposal because they believe it will burden taxpayers.

“I can’t support the whole concept of this,” said Mr. Gabrielsen.

“One hundred thirty two apartments is too much for that area,” added Mr. Dunleavy

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, whose daughter just had an operation, is with her daughter 24 hours a day, said Mr. Dunleavy, and board members aren’t sure when she will return and believe she may not be in support of the project. Councilman Jim Wooten supports the project.

Mr. Walter has said repeatedly in the past two months that he believes Riverhead needs more work-force housing to attract workers to the high-tech firms he hopes will open up in the town-owned Enterprise Park at Calverton (EPCAL) at the site of the former Grumman plant.

“We cannot bring in tech jobs with people living in basement apartments,” said Mr. Walter. “If you want EPCAL to work, this is part of making EPCAL work.”

He told Mr. Gabrielsen that he didn’t understand why Mr. Gabrielsen received tax exemptions on his farm but wasn’t in favor of tax exemptions for other people, and added that an estimated 13 students will live in the apartments and attend Riverhead Schools. He added that many of those students may already be living in the district.

“I believe this is tax positive,” he said of the project, adding that the town did away with its day care program for seniors due to budget cuts.

“I love kids,” he added. “I’m going to support this. You know that.”

He was met with an amen from a women in the audience.

Mr. Gabrielsen said he loves kids too.

Rev. and Mrs. Coverdale sat silently throughout the meeting, and Ms. Coverdale declined to comment afterward. A handful of supporters of the project sat quietly through the meeting, though many gasped and said under their breath that they thought the outcome of the meeting was horrible and board members should be ashamed of themselves.

“You’ve got your work cut out for you. It’s not going to be put on [the agenda] anymore,” Mr. Walter told the Coverdales. “I don’t want to keep torturing this.”

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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