Jonathan Brown, counsel to the Riverhead Fire District (background) reviews plans as architect Martin Sendlewski (foreground) discusses revisions made by applicant Frank Fisher (second from right). Photo: Denise Civiletti

Propane company owner Frank Fisher and architect Martin Sendlewski last night asked the Riverhead Fire District Board of Commissioners to reconsider their objection to a proposed propane distribution facility on Kroemer Avenue.

Fire district commissioners listened silently as Fisher and Sendlewski made their pitch for reconsideration last night at Riverhead Fire Department headquarters, where the board of commissioners held its regular meeting. At the end of their presentation, the attorney for the district responded, saying the commissioners would take their comments “under advisement” and review the applicant’s revised plans.

The fire district’s opposition to the proposal was a factor in the Riverhead Planning Board’s rejection of a site plan on June 3, when only two of the five planning board members voted to grant preliminary site plan approval.

Fisher, the owner of 631 Propane, is seeking to develop the four-acre site at 48 Kroemer Avenue with eight 30,000-gallon propane tanks and a 38,472-square-foot, two-story commercial building for industrial and office uses.

The applicant, hoping to get the fire district’s blessing, is seeking a re-vote on the site plan.

Sendlewski told the commissioners he thinks was “a little bit of miscommunication with the town.” He said that the plans reviewed by the commissioners were not the most recently revised plans submitted to the town with changes required by Riverhead Fire Marshal Craig Zitek.

He submitted to the commissioners copies of the original plan as well as several subsequent revisions, citing highlights of changes along the way. Sendlewski also submitted copies of three memos by the fire marshal to the planning department.

The fire marshal’s concerns have been addressed, Sendlewski told the board.

He said a new revision, which he said he submitted yesterday to Riverhead Building and Planning Administrator Jefferson Murphree, shows the addition of “an emergency access entrance on the southernmost part of the site.” There is also a new rear access driveway that wraps around the back of the tanks, he said.

The tanks have been reoriented so that they are positioned at a 90-degree angle to the northern entrance, Sendlewski said, addressing the commissioners’ objection to the orientation of the tanks depicted on an earlier site plan. Previously, the ends of the tanks pointed at an entrance firefighters would use when responding to an emergency there. If there were a fire, the tank ends could be blown out and flames shooting out of the tanks would place firefighters in danger.

Ray Dickhoff, an employee of Fisher’s propane company, said he attempted to deliver the most recently revised plan to the fire marshal but Zitek did not want them. He said the previous plan met all the codes and he didn’t need to see this additional plan.

Zitek this morning confirmed that he did not accept the revised plans from Dickhoff he didn’t on Friday. The fire marshal said he told Dickhoff he would not be able to review them before the fire commissioners meeting, so it would be best to submit them to the fire commissioners first.

Zitek also confirmed today that all of the comments he made on the previous plans have been addressed by the applicant.

Fisher told the board last night he wanted to make sure they had seen all the corrections and changes.

“I have hired experts, guys who wrote the code, to help us design this, they wrote the NFPA 58 code,” Fisher said, referring to the code governing liquid propane facilities.

“We meet — exceed — every code,” Fisher said. “We didn’t ask for a variance. We’ve been through the town, we have a special permit. We have health department, we have the fire marshal, we have the DEC signed off. I mean, we’re right at the finish, we’re there at the finish. So again, if you have any concerns, we’re happy to address them,” he said.

“Understand, I’m in the propane business,” Fisher said. “This is going to be where I’m going to be living for the rest of my life. I’m building this one time. I’m going to be in that office working there. I’m bringing my kids into the business. And this is something that — nobody wants it safer than me because I’m going to be sitting 100 yards away. So I want to do it the right way.”

Fire district counsel Jonathan Brown responded to the applicant last night. Brown gave a chronology of the communications he had with town officials. He said he wrote to the town supervisor, town board and other officials on behalf of the commissioners on Oct. 16, expressing the commissioners’ interest in the project and asking to be “kept in the loop,” he said.

“We don’t hear from anyone,” Brown said. He said he followed up with another letter on April 26.

“On the date of the hearing on May 6, I get a response from the town attorney’s office,” Brown said. “For the first time I get the fire safety plan. That’s the evening of the first hearing and we’ve had no opportunity to review it whatsoever,” he said, despite asking for the plan and despite the fact that the town code requires the plan to be provided to the fire district for review.

“All the commissioners have asked for is a fair opportunity to review the plans and respond. The code requires it. We’re insisting on it,” Brown said.

He said the board of commissioners would “take the applicant’s comments under advisement and then they’ll respond appropriately.”

Sendlewski has asked the planning department to put a resolution granting preliminary site plan approval on the planning board’s agenda at its next meeting for a re-vote.

“It meets or exceeds all code requirements,” he said.

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Denise Civiletti
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.