Vincent DiCanio discusses his plan at the Calverton Civic Association meeting in June 2016. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Smithtown developer Vincent DeCanio, principal in a real estate company that’s been in litigation with Riverhead Town for more than a decade, is again looking to settle the ongoing lawsuit — which the town won, but which he’s appealed — this time, with an agreement that will allow him to build a 135-unit senior/assisted living residential facility on Middle Country Road and Manor Road in Calverton.

DeCanio pitched the idea to a sparsely attended meeting of the Calverton Civic Association Wednesday evening. He said he was there at the suggestion of Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who told him she didn’t think the town board would support the settlement unless his plan had community support.

About 100 units would be independent living rental apartments for “active seniors,” DeCanio told the group, with the remaining units reserved for assisted living.

The development would take place on the portion of the nearly 42-acre site fronting Middle Country Road, on the corner of Manor Road. DeCanio said the development rights on the northern portion of the site have been sold; that part of the property would remain active farmland, he said.

The developer would contract with an experienced assisted living company to operate the facility, DeCanio said. Ron DeVito of Concordia Assisted Living, which has proposed building such a facility on Mill Road in Riverhead, attended the civic meeting. DeCanio acknowledged speaking with DeVito about operating the Calverton Manor facility if it gains approval. There is no agreement yet, both men said.

Concordia has petitioned the Riverhead Town Board for a change of zone on the Mill Road site to the Retirement Community zoning use district, which allows assisted living facilities by special permit if certain conditions, including hookup to public water and sewer districts, are met. The board held a hearing on the zone change petition, but has not taken any action; a majority of board members have said they do not support it.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said he would not support the construction of an assisted living facility on the Calverton Manor site.

“To me that would just be more suburban sprawl,” Walter said. He said the town’s master plan called for concentrating commercial development in the town’s Route 58 corridor. “We’ve developed all the areas as intended. I’m not about to start pushing the envelope.”

Calverton Civic Association president Rex Farr had much the same message for DeCanio during the meeting.

“The last thing we need is 58 going into Wading River,” Farr said.

DeCanio countered that the use would be an “upzoning” because it would be changing the property’s use from commercial to residential, which he said is “low impact.”

The developer said under the site’s current Rural Corridor zoning, it could be developed with more than 50,000 square of commercial uses.

“It is going to be developed,” DeCanio said. “Wouldn’t it be better to work it out together?”

Calverton Manor sued the Town of Riverhead in 2005 after the town implemented its 2003 master plan with new zoning codes that imposed new land use restrictions along the Route 25 corridor. The developer, which sought to build a 155,000-square-foot mixed-use retail and rental apartment complex on the site, challenged the legality of the master plan zoning. It argued that the town failed to properly follow procedures required by the State Environmental Quality Review Act, so the 2003 master plan and all the zoning adopted pursuant to it, should be invalidated.

The trial court rejected Calverton Manor’s argument. In a seven-page decision signed July 15, 2014, State Supreme Court Justice William Rebolini ruled that the developer failed to meet the “heavy burden of proof” required to set aside the town’s master plan zoning. The 2003 comprehensive plan “is a legal, constitutional and valid exercise of the police and zoning powers of the Town Board of the Town of Riverhead,” the judge wrote.

But in 2012, after the suit — actually five separate legal actions — had been pending for seven years, Riverhead officials had been poised to settle the matter in an agreement that would have reinstated the pre-master plan zoning and granted the developer the right to build a “campus style” retail shopping center and 40 rental apartments — and also dispense with full-blown environmental review. The pending settlement was first reported by RiverheadLOCAL on Jan. 20, 2012.

Walter initially endorsed the settlement deal. “We need to wrap this stuff up,” Walter told RiverheadLOCAL. “The master plan was adopted seven years ago. It’s time to move on with these things,” he said.

Even as settlement talks continued, the supervisor publicly expressed his worries that, if the case was not settled, the town would lose and the master plan would be set aside by a court because of flaws in its adoption.

“This lawsuit has the potential to tear the master plan to shreds,” Walter warned.

But a proposed settlement failed to garner and sustain support from a majority of town board members and civic groups rallied against the deal, demanding that the town proceed with the litigation and defend its zoning code.

Calverton Manor has appealed the trial court’s July 2014 decision and the action remains pending.

“I’d be really surprised if there would be three board members to support this” new settlement proposal, the supervisor said Friday.

Giglio said Saturday there is “a great need for an assisted living” in Riverhead “and finding a location has been challenging.” She said she “recommended [DeCanio] go to the Calverton Civic Association to present the idea to them because it would require a zone change…If the civic is against it. I can’t see the Town Board approving it,” she said.

“I just don’t want them to go through the exercise and expense of putting through an application for a zone change if it’s not going to go anywhere,” Giglio said.

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