A discussion about Stop and Shop’s Peapod operations grew surly at the Riverhead Town Board work session Thursday morning.
Councilwoman Jodi Giglio sought to put a resolution on the upcoming town board meeting agenda authorizing the Riverhead town attorney, in his discretion, to commence a lawsuit in State Supreme Court against the owners and tenants of the Stop and Shop site on Route 58 “to enjoin the illegal use, occupancy and/or maintenance” of the property.
Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith tried to block the move — first contending that the matter, which concerns litigation, should properly be discussed in executive session, not in a public meeting. She then sought to delay taking up the resolution until the board’s first meeting in February, to allow the town to meet with representatives of the supermarket’s parent company. She hopes to be able to resolve ongoing complaints by neighboring residents of Glenwood Village about noise generated by Peapod’s delivery service operations at the site.
The supervisor and councilwoman argued over whether the town board’s rules of procedure require the assent of all five members of the board to put a resolution on the agenda — which, by law, the supervisor otherwise controls.
“This is not a dictatorship,” Giglio told Jens-Smith.
“For 10 years, the residents of Glenwood Village have been suffering,” Giglio said. “Peapod has become a major distribution center.”
Jens-Smith accused Giglio of “grandstanding.”
Glenwood Village principal Brian Stark was in the audience and expressed his displeasure with Jens-Smith’s position on the question, when she said she considered Giglio’s resolution “premature.”
“Ten years is premature?” Stark asked from the audience.
Jens-Smith told him the town board would not entertain discussions with members of the audience.
“I am the 10th biggest taxpayer in the Town of Riverhead and I’ve been put off for 10 years,” Stark said. “It’s bulls–t.”
“Be more respectful here, sir,” Councilman James Wooten told Stark, who shortly after left the meeting room.
The crux of the conflict involves the use of a portion of the Stop and Shop supermarket site as a warehouse for the Peapod delivery service based there.
The town approved the Peapod delivery service as an “accessory use” to the supermarket use more than a decade ago, town attorney Robert Kozakiewicz said in an interview after the meeting.
But it seems the town may have gotten more than it bargained for.
The Peapod warehouse within the Riverhead Stop and Shop is a regional distribution facility, Peapod’s then- regional director of marketing for the East Coast told RiverheadLOCAL in 2012. The official, Peg Merzbacher, said the Riverhead location was, at the time, one of four Peapod regional distribution centers on Long Island. The others were located in Medford, South Setauket and New Hyde Park. Peapod’s four regional distribution centers were “pretty much delivering in every zip code on Long Island and in Queens,” she said.
Merzbacher said the Riverhead location handled home deliveries throughout the surrounding region, including the entire East End. It can ship up to 350 orders daily, she said.
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.
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.
The noise from Peapod’s operations made life “hell” for nearby Glenwood Village residents. See prior story.
Stop and Shop has a plan to address the problem, Jens-Smith said today.
A meeting was scheduled to discuss it on Tuesday, but, according to Jens-Smith, Stop and Shop pulled out when the company learned Stark would attend with his attorney. She said she wanted to give the company another opportunity to meet.
Giglio said adopting the resolution she proposed would give the town “leverage.”
“It lights a fire under them,” Giglio said.
“As you haven’t done in the past 11 years,” Jens-Smith shot back. She pointed out that the town issued three town code violations for excessive noise in 2018, the only noise violations ever issued by the town in the site’s history, she said. The town attorney confirmed that and said they remain pending in Riverhead Justice Court.
Jens-Smith and Kozakiewicz said Stop and Shop completed a “noise study” that was provided to the town by email Wednesday night.
“I’m asking time to allow us to digest it before voting on this resolution,” the supervisor said.
But Wooten and Councilman Tim Hubbard both indicated they would not oppose Giglio’s resolution.
“I support it,” Hubbard said.
“I’m not opposed to it,” Wooten said. “I’m dismayed it seems the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”
Deputy Supervisor Catherine Kent supported the supervisor.
Jens-Smith said after five years since the complaints from Glenwood residents began, a delay of two more weeks would not be unreasonable.
With the support of two other council members, Giglio can take the resolution off the floor at Tuesday’s meeting, which she said she intended to do.
In an interview after the meeting, Stark said he was unaware that another meeting with Stop and Shop had been scheduled and also didn’t know anything about a noise study being done by the company and submitted to the town. He was critical of the town’s handling of the dispute and what he sees as a lack of action on the part of officials.
“As one of the town’s largest and oldest taxpayers, it’s disappointing that they refuse to proactively go after clear non-compliance issues with their own code,” Stark said Thursday evening. “They have leverage and for some reason are averse to using it.”
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