Architect's rendering of Peconic Crossing on West Main Street.

Peconic Crossing, a 45-unit affordable rental apartment building proposed for a half-acre site on West Main Street along the Peconic River, gained final site plan approval from the Riverhead Planning Board last night.

“We’re hoping to be able to break ground before the end of the year,” a smiling Alan Handelman of Conifer Realty said after emerging from the planning board meeting at Riverhead Town Hall.

The actual groundbreaking will depend on how long it takes the current property owner, Long Island Science Center, to find a new home. The contract of sale between the science center and Conifer was contingent, among other things, on Conifer obtaining final site plan approval from the town.

“Now that they have site plan approval, all of the contract conditions have been met,” said Long Island Science Center board member Larry Oxman. “Tomorrow morning, I’ll start making calls.”

Oxman said he has spoken to several owners of downtown properties while Conifer’s application wended its way through a time-consuming and complex approval process. Now, he said, he can begin negotiating in earnest.

Oxman, who is also a real estate broker, declined to say what sites the science center is interested in or which property owners he’s spoken. The organization wants to relocate to another site downtown, preferably on Main Street and preferably near the aquarium, he said. The organization wants to buy, not lease, property, he said.

Oxman also declined to disclose how long the science center has, pursuant to its contract of sale with Conifer, to move out.

“I’ll just say the contract gives us ample time,” Oxman said.

The five-story apartment building planned by Conifer will offer rent-controlled apartments to tenants who meet income limits set forth by the N.Y. State Homes and Community Renewal agency which has granted low-income tax credits to investors in the project.

Maximum rents will be based on affordability scales tied to median household incomes in Suffolk County, published by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Rochester-based developer Conifer has partnered with Community Development Corporation of Long Island, headquartered in Centereach, on the Riverhead project.

According to testimony given by Community Development Corporation of Long Island president and CEO Marianne Garvinent at a Riverhead Industrial Development Agency hearing in December 2014, rents will range from $952-$1,133 per month for one-bedroom apartments (maximum occupancy of two people) and $1,141-$1,528 for two-bedroom units (maximum occupancy: four people). Heat and hot water are included.

While Supervisor Sean Walter has characterized the development as an “Artspace type of development” — referring to the nonprofit developer of artist live-work spaces that built a loft project in Patchogue — and said Peconic Crossing is “geared towards the artisans of Long Island,” the project’s funding, provided through special post-Sandy federal disaster relief assistance under the community development block grant program, actually requires the developer to give preference to residents displaced by Sandy.

The developers have told town officials they will grant preference to artists as well. Last night, Handelman characterized that preference as “wait-list preference for artists.”

Walter said last night he’s very happy Peconic Crossing won planning board approval.

“It will be a transformative project for West Main Street,” he predicted. How many artists take up residence there will depend on the efforts of organizations like East End Arts to attract them, he said. The town negotiated the provision of public display spaces for art work, in the hope of making the project more attractive to artists, Walter said.

The planning board approved the final site plan last night in a split-vote, with chairman Stan Carey dissenting.

“I have too many concerns over parking and the location,” Carey said before casting the lone “no” vote in the 3-1 decision. With member George Nunnaro absent, members Richard O’Dea, Edward Densieski and Joseph Baier voted to approve.

The approval requires the developer to provide ground-level parking for 34 cars and new bulkheading along the river. There will be ingress and egress on West Main Street with an exit on Peconic Avenue, utilizing an easement over land owned by the adjoining Chase Bank.

The new construction will terminate access to Peconic Avenue by vehicles using an unimproved driveway behind a group of West Main Street buildings, a playground and the community garden which all adjoin Grangebel Park.

The project has already gained required approvals from the New York State Department of Transportation and Department of Environmental Conservation.

Conifer and CDCLI have an application pending before the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency for real property tax abatements, as well as mortgage and sales tax exemptions.

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