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Developer has ‘no plans’ for unused 11-acre portion of Costco site after controversial clear-cutting of woods

Riverhead officials learned yesterday that the developer of the Costco site has no intention of building on the northern 11-acre portion of the formerly wooded, 42-acre site, clear-cut in 2013 to make way for 271,000 square feet of commercial development.

The site plan approved by the town in 2012 allowed developer Brixmor Property Group to concentrate all of its permitted development yield on the southern 30 acres. There was no requirement for the northern portion of the site to be used for the remaining development. Instead, the approved plan allowed the developer to mine 187,000 cubic yards of sand and soil from the northern 11 acres to fill low-lying areas on the southern portion where the buildings would be constructed.

Permission to clear and mine those 11 acres resulted in a substantial savings to the developer. The expense of importing that much sand and soil would have exceeded $3 million (at the 2013 going rate of at the going rate of $14.50 per ton, plus a monitoring fee to the town of $2 per cubic yard imported.)

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The northern portion of the site was reserved for possible future development, which could only come if the property owner purchases development rights off farmland in the Agricultural Protection Zone. In 2013, the cost of the development rights to allow for any additional yield on the site would have run about $1 million.

Yesterday, representatives of Brixmor Property Group met with the planning board to discuss the modified site plan for which they now seek approval, to construct its remaining “as of right” development. The new plan reconfigures the development planned for the eastern portion of the site. It shows an 11,945-square-foot retail building on the southeast corner of the site, fronting Route 58, with a 10,400-square foot retail building to its north and three attached buildings — a 42,000-square-foot building with 18,000-square-foot buildings on either side — north of that.

When questioned by planning board chairman Stan Carey about developing the northern portion, the developer’s attorney, Chris Kent, told the board his client has “no plans for that right now,” reiterating that the modified plan — like the plan approved in 2012 and modified in 2014 — reflected only “as of right” development.

Kent repeated that position in an interview after the meeting.

 

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View (2014) from the backyard of a Foxwood homeowner, where evergreen trees planted atop a berm replaced woodlands. File photo: Denise Civiletti

The clear-cutting shocked and infuriated residents of Foxwood Village, a senior community immediately to the north of the site — bulldozers leveled trees and brush right to the property line of their shared boundary.

Controversy over the clear-cutting was a factor in the town board’s decision to adopt a tree-clearing code several months later, imposing new buffer requirements for commercial developments adjoining residential uses.

But the impacts of the clear-cutting on the neighbors in Foxwood remain.

“People are getting headlights in their homes,” planning board member Ed Densieski told the Brixmor reps, including engineer Courtney Riley of VHB Engineering, Brixmore vice president Bill Greimel and attorney Chris Kent.

The approved site plan required the developer to construct a berm along the northern boundary line and plant both the northern and eastern boundaries — which both adjoin residential communities — with evergreen shrubbery.

“The people on the east are going to have the same problem,” Densieski said. “There’s got to be more buffer or a better wall or whatever.”

Carey said he’d visited the site on Wednesday and “there’s still quite a few dead shrubs and trees.”

“We’ll replace them,” Greimel said. “It’s an ongoing thing. It’s been a tough summer.”

“With all due respect, sir, do you know how many times your company has told us that?” Densieski said.

Greimel protested that Brixmor has replaced the dead shrubs and will continue to do so.

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The northern portion of the Brixmor site as it appeared on Sept. 16, 2016. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The planners said they would like to see a sound wall erected on the eastern boundary, where only 50 feet separate the rear of the proposed buildings and the property line of the adjoining residential community.

Planners yesterday were also concerned about the grade elevation of the eastern portion of the site, where excess fill was spread in 2013, after the developer excavated more than was needed to fill depressions on the south — due to an miscalculation, they said. The higher grade would mean the buildings erected there would be taller.

When the board chairman asked about leaching fields installed on the north end of the site, which are surrounded by temporary fencing and should be, he said “addressed,” Greimel said the structures — installed for drainage for future construction — would be abandoned.

“If we have excess fills we can use it in those areas and create some other berm or interest features there,” Greimel said.

“We’re listening to you,” Kent said. “We’ll try to make it better. We’ll see what we can do on that eastern boundary,” he said.

One of several fenced-off drainage structures on the vacant acreage behind the Costco parking lot. Photo: Denise Civiletti
One of several fenced-off drainage structures on the vacant acreage behind the Costco parking lot. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Densieski asked if the buildings could have less depth and more length, since there remains a considerable area on the northeast corner of the site that will remain vacant, according to the plans presented yesterday. That will allow a greater buffer between the buildings and the residences to the east, he said.

But Greimel said the building dimensions are dictated by the requirements of the national retailers who will be occupying them.

“We’re about to sighn a lease with a major pet supplier,” Greimel said. Another building has been leased to Marshall’s Home Goods, and a third has been leased to Ulta, a beauty supply chain.

“I don’t know it would be practical,” he said, adding that he did not want to “create an expectation” that the developer would be unable to meet.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website. Email Denise.