Residents in the Glenwood community concerned about noise from loading docks at the rear of a proposed new shopping center adjacent to their homesites recently told the Riverhead planning board they don’t want to be in the same situation as neighbors living behind the Stop and Shop supermarket. Activity at the Stop and Shop loading docks has caused ongoing noise problems for residents, whose backyards are just a few feet away.
Judy Cajigas of Kindlingwood Drive in Glenwood bought her mobile home on a treed lot along the northern border of the retirement community five years ago. The land behind her homesite was wooded. Her backyard was private and quiet — even secluded.
“This was supposed to be our last stop before heaven,” Cajigas said. “Instead we’re living in hell.”
Not long after they moved in, everything changed. The woods were cleared to make way for a Stop and Shop Supermarket, which was built and opened up in 2008. The rear of the massive building — nearly 66,000 square feet in area — where the loading docks were located, was about 30 feet from Cajigas’ backyard. Behind the building was a paved access roadway connecting the commercial properties to the west of the supermarket to Mill Road. Then comes a 15-foot “buffer” which the developer was not required by the town to plant with any vegetative screening to buffer any noise from activity at the supermarket loading docks.
“We can no longer use our backyard. There are diesel fumes from idling trucks and a lot of noise — at all hours of the morning and night,” she said. “We can’t even sleep, even with the windows closed.”
Cajigas has made frequent complaints to a succession of supermarket managers, to the town police and to the code enforcement office.
She thought things might improve when the supermarket posted signs that read “All deliveries prohibited between 8 p.m. and 7 p.m.”
Cajigas then realized that deliveries to the store weren’t the cause of her distress. Instead it was the loading of delivery trucks with goods leaving the store that made the disturbing noise — and it often continued until very late at night.
Peapod delivery trucks at the Stop and Shop were the culprits, Cajigas realized. The Peapod trucks are loaded at night for deliveries the next day, she said. The wheeled metal racks rolling along the pavement rattled loudly, the plastic tubs used to pack the home-delivery orders banged and clanked on the trucks and on the cement loading docks. The young people loading up the trucks talked in loud voices, sometimes using foul language and playing loud music. And the Peapod trucks often blocked the narrow access road running parallel to the supermarket and her backyard, resulting in horns blaring when other vehicles can’t get past. And the constant beep-beep-beep of trucks backing up drives them crazy, she said.
And all those Peapod trucks: There are more than a dozen of them parked outside the Stop and Shop waiting to be deployed early every morning, Cajigas said. Their number made her wonder: Why were there so many trucks in Riverhead? Where are they delivering to?
Cajigas visited other Stop and Shop locations in Suffolk and took note: None of the other stores she visited had a fleet of Peapod trucks parked outside.
“I began to think maybe this was some kind of regional shipping center,” she said. So she went to the building department, where she was told it was a supermarket. “The woman there looked at me like she thought I was crazy.”
It turns out there was nothing crazy about her conclusion at all.
Riverhead’s Stop and Shop houses one of four Peapod regional distribution centers on Long Island, according to Peg Merzbacher, Peapod’s regional director of marketing for the East Coast.
Peapod, an internet grocery service founded in Illinois in 1989, has two freestanding warehouses and 21 smaller “warerooms” located inside Stop and Shop Supermarkets in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Peapod is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the same publicly traded international retailer that owns the Stop and Shop chain, Koninklijke Ahold N.V., based in Amsterdam. It also operates out of another Ahold chain, Giant supermarkets, in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
“We’re independent but partner with Stop and Shop,” Merzbacher said. The delivery service company leases space from the retail chain and sets up its “wareroom” in a separate area within the store.
The Riverhead location handles home deliveries throughout the surrounding region, including the entire East End, Merzbacher said. It can ship up to 350 orders daily.
Peapod is different from other home-delivery grocery services because of the special “warerooms” housed within supermarkets, Merzbacher said. They are specially configured for Peapod pickers, who can pick an average order in about 20 minutes — an order that would take about 50 minutes to pick in the supermarket aisles. But because the operation shares the same space as the retail store, it has access to in-store services such as the deli counter, Merzbacher said. See video below for a look at how a wareroom operates.
Riverhead was thought to be a good location for a Peapod facility because of its access to a large second-home market on both forks, Merzbacher said. When it opened in Riverhead in 2008, Peapod thought it would market its service to vacationers. But it was the year-round resident that turned out to be the delivery company’s bread and butter — especially during the summer months. “Year-round residents don’t want to go to the store when all the weekenders and tourists are there,” Merzbacher said.
Merzbacher said Peapod is “pretty much delivering in every zip code on Long Island and in Queens” from its four L.I. locations: Riverhead, Medford, South Setauket and New Hyde Park.
Merzbacher said she had not heard of any complaints by neighbors in Riverhead.
Peapod always has to obtain separate approvals from the local municipalities in order to set up and operate their “warerooms” and delivery service, Merzbacher said.
“In order to be able to open up a facility inside the supermarket, to even be able to park the delivery trucks in the lot, we always need to get separate approvals,” Merzbacher said. “There had to be. We just can’t go into a store and do that,” she said.
Except, it seems, in Riverhead. Town building department records include a single use permit for the premises — authorizing a retail supermarket — and the site plan maps and approvals in the town planning department do not make any reference to “warerooms” or delivery service facilities.
Merzbacher said on Friday she couldn’t address specifics about the Riverhead facility without checking with the operations division; she said she would look into it and has not yet responded nor returned a phone call on Monday seeking additional information.
“We have 21 of these, but maybe Riverhead is different,” Merzbacher said Friday. “There’s always an exception to the rule.”
Riverhead planning board chairman Richard O’Dea said Monday he was not aware there was a separate delivery service operation within the retail store when the planning board reviewed and approved the site plan in 2007. Planning Board members were told about the Peapod service, he said, but he thought it was a service of Stop and Shop, conducted within the supermarket. He also had no idea, he said, that the site was going to be a regional facility.
Town planning director Rick Hanley said he was aware of the Peapod delivery service but didn’t think it was a separate operation, merely a convenience to be offered to residents. “It was presented as a benefit to the community,” Hanley said.
The operation brings interesting zoning questions to light. If the Peapod “wareroom” is considered a warehouse serving as a distribution center, is it even a permitted use in Riverhead’s Business Center zoning use district, where the Stop and Shop is located? The laundry list of uses permitted as of right or by special permit include retail stores, restaurants, bakeries, banks, health spas, offices, car dealerships, and others — but there’s no mention of warehouses.
Supervisor Sean Walter, who said the neighbors’ noise complaints to the town did not, to his knowledge, reach his office, doubted that the delivery service operation could go under the radar with the town building inspector.
“Maybe this was considered an accessory use,” he wondered aloud during an interview Monday afternoon. “I don’t know, but I’ll look into it,” he said.
“How could the town give them approval for a warehouse operation this close to a residential area,” Cajigas asks. “It just doesn’t make sense to me,” she said.
Brian Stark, principal in the Glenwood Community where Cajigas lives, said he regrets not being more vigilant during the site plan review process several years ago when the Stop and Shop application was pending. He said he’d met with representatives of Stop and Shop at the time but knew nothing about Peapod and was unaware it was a separate operation or that it was going to serve the entire region.
“I was remiss in not asking or a larger buffer, not asking the planning board to push the development further north toward the road,” Stark said, noting the store has a large lawn between Route 58 and its expansive parking lot in front of the store. “The entire development is pushed right up against my property line and in retrospect I don’t see why that was necessary,” he said. He said developers like to have a broad expanse in front of the stores so customers can see they have plenty of parking. But the planning board should have been thinking about the residences to the back of the store as well, he said.
Stark said his experience with the Stop and Shop site has informed his position on the shopping center to the west that’s proposed by Saber-Riverhead, which says it has signed leases with Dick’s Sporting Goods, Aldi Supermarket, the Christmas Tree Shop, Buffalo Wild Wings, Starbucks and other tenants.
He has asked the planning board to require the developer to change the orientation of the proposed buildings, so that they’re facing east, which will move the loading docks away from the backyards of Glenwood residents. The planning board has so far had no reaction to that request, Stark said. The developer opposes it, arguing it will negatively affect the lease value of stores they’ve already signed leases on.
“They shouldn’t have signed leases for specific spaces before they got approvals,” Stark said.
No matter what happens, the Saber-Riverhead shopping center will have a wider buffer than the 15 feet allowed behind the Stop and Shop, and — unlike the Stop and Shop buffer — this one will be planted with screening vegetation and will have a sound-deadening wall erected along the boundary line. Stark said he is waiting for the Saber developers to get back to him on the height and composition of the wall.
As for the Peapod operation, Stark vowed to look into it, though he said he’s not sure whether anything can be done about the situation now.
Cajigas said she wants to move. She’s had her home on the market for sale for three years with no interest, which she attributes to the busy loading zone a few steps from her back porch.
“I think Peapod ought to buy my home,” Cajigas said Monday. “They already took its value away.”
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