A proposal for a two-story medical office building on Main Road in Aquebogue drew heat from residents during a town board public hearing last week.
The applicant is seeking a special permit from the town board to build a two-story building with a footprint of 5,340 square feet on just under two acres of land on the south side of Main Road approximately 188 feet west of Union Avenue.
The site is located in the Rural Corridor zoning use district, where professional offices are one of several special permit uses.
Applicant Chernoff Realty in May obtained variances from zoning code requirements for maximum floor area ratio (0.1284 where maximum permitted is .10) and maximum impervious surface area (54.65% where maximum permitted is 25%.)
The proposed development will house an orthopedic doctor’s office, including rehabilitation and MRI facilities, attorney Charles Cuddy of Riverhead, attorney for the applicant told the board.
The development plan has gone through a number of iterations, including two approvals that subsequently expired. The current site plan shows a 32-foot-tall, two-story building with 76 parking spaces. The building will house 34 exam rooms in six suites on two floors, each suite also having two rest rooms, an office, a waiting room and reception areas. There are also designated supply closets and break rooms on both floors.
Residents raised concerns about the size and mass of the building, which would be the first two-story commercial construction east of County Route 105.
Among them were former supervisor Laura Jens-Smith of Laurel, who said the Rural Corridor zoning use district, adopted as part of the 2003 master plan update, aims to preserve the rural character of the area east of County Route 105.
“As stated in the code for the rural corridor, the intent of the rural corridor district to allow a very limited range of roadside shops, services that are compatible with the agricultural and rural setting along arterial roads such as Route 25,” she said. The medical office is not an as-of-right use but can be allowed by special permit if the use meets criteria spelled out by the code.
The proposed development is “a two-story, 10,000-square-foot medical office complex that contains several separate full-scale medical offices with 34 exam rooms in one building on this under two-acre parcel,” Jens-Smith said.
“Allowing the special permit project as presented changes the rural character of the area forever and opens the door to large-scale development creep,” Jens-Smith said.
Jens-Smith also criticized the proposed amount of impervious surface on the developed site, which she said would be about an acre of the 1.9-acre site.
Cuddy said the paved parking area is necessary because the proposed medical office building will be occupied by an orthopedist and patients coming to the building are often using crutches, walkers and wheelchairs. “You can’t put a pervious type of material down… because it’s pretty hard to go over,” he said.
Cuddy stressed that the footprint of the building is not large compared to the size of the property. “We’re talking about a 5,000-square-foot building on an 80,000-square-foot site. So it’s not the tremendous construction that everybody talked about. This is a two-story building because it has uses that will be significant. I think it has some meaning to it.” Cuddy said.
Other residents echoed Jens-Smith’s objections. Robert Skinner of Aquebogue said there are other zoning districts in the town that are more appropriate for the proposed uses and the town should not allow this type of development in the Rural Corridor zone.
“It just opens the flood gate for this to look like another East Setauket,” Skinner said.
John Newman of South Jamesport said the proposed two-story building is not in keeping with the intent of the master plan as it pertains to the rural corridor.
Jim Derenze, president of the Greater Jamesport Civic Association, echoed those concerns and added that traffic generated by the use would create a hazard on an already-busy roadway.
Attorney Ron Hariri of Aquebogue urged the board to consider the “dramatic effect” its decisions have on the community and whether or not people want to live in Riverhead.
“One of the areas that has not been damaged by poor decisions of this board and its predecessors is the Rural Corridor zone,” Hariri said. “I think you need to understand that it would be shameful if, like in the past, you failed to preserve the character consistent with the master plan.”
Councilmember Tim Hubbard and Catherine Kent both expressed reservations about the proposal.
“It’s a rural corridor. And yes, we do have some business offices in the rural corridor or but they’re all single-story operation,” Hubbard said. “And to throw something in, it’s now a two-story building creates some problems for me with keeping it rural. And I think if you open the door to this, you’re going to see other parcels of land go with two stories,” he said.
Hubbard said a campus style development with one-story buildings “way more acceptable” for the rural corridor.
The Chernoff proposal is “quite an aggressive project for 1.8 acres,” Hubbard said, “76 parking spaces, almost 16,000 square feet, counting the basement. To me, covering that entire lot with with blacktop and building — and again, two stories bothers me the most about it in a rural court. That’s a beautiful stretch from 105 into the outskirts of Jamesport, to see two-story buildings start popping up, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that,” Hubbard said.
Kent agreed with Hubbard. “I’m concerned with the intensity of the whole project. And I think it opens the door for more two-story buildings coming in,” she said. “We have to work hard to protect our hamlets and the nature and the look of our hamlets. And I am very concerned about a two-story building in that area. I don’t think it’s appropriate for the area.”
Cuddy said the building is set back 60 feet from the road and its entrance will be in the rear, so the front of the building will be landscaped. He noted that the basement will be unfinished and used only for storage.
“Over a period of time, it’s been looked at by the planning board and looked at by zoning board and it’s been found to be appropriate. And I think it is appropriate for this type of use and this site,” Cuddy said.
Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, though she did not respond directly to Hubbard and Kent, stated that the hearing was part of a public process, to hear what the public has to say about a proposal.
“Most of us do not go in — and we should not go in — to a public hearing with a predisposition as to which way we’re going to vote. We need to listen to the public,” Aguiar said.
Support local journalism.
Now more than ever, the survival of quality local journalism depends on your support. Our community faces unprecedented economic disruption, and the future of many small businesses are under threat, including our own. It takes time and resources to provide this service. We are a small family-owned operation, and we will do everything in our power to keep it going. But today more than ever before, we will depend on your support to continue. Support RiverheadLOCAL today. You rely on us to stay informed and we depend on you to make our work possible.