A proposed five-story, mixed-use building at the corner of Osborn Avenue and Court Street drew opposition and concerns from several quarters during a town board public hearing on the project site plan Tuesday.
The proposed $19.6 million at 205 Osborn Avenue includes 37 market-rate rental apartments on four stories above ground-floor office uses, as well as on-site surface parking on the approximately one-half acre site.
The building is the first proposal in the Railroad Avenue Urban Renewal Overlay District adopted at the beginning of this year. The 41,867-square-foot, 50-foot-tall building would provide 24 one-bedroom, 10 two-bedroom and three studio units, with a rooftop patio for building residents.
Susan Berdinka, an Aquebogue resident and trustee of the Riverhead Free Library said the trustees are happy the property will be improved, but voiced a laundry list of concerns about the proposal’s potential impacts.
Berdinka said the trustees are worried about the development’s potential adverse impacts on the sewer system and water supply, the potential for shadowing the library’s solar panels due to the height of the building, the need for the library to hire additional security to ensure its parking lot isn’t used by the building’s tenants, and reduced visibility at the intersection of Osborn Avenue and Court Street.
She also took issue with potential adverse effects of the construction process, such as rodents escaping during demolition of the existing blighted building, the environmental impacts of toxic materials like asbestos, and the potential impacts of vibration during construction on the structural integrity of the library and its Yellow Barn, a historic structure.
“And we’re especially concerned about how all of the above will ultimately affect those who pay property taxes in the Riverhead library district to fund our wonderful library,” she said.
Chris Kent, an attorney representing G2D, responded to the library’s concerns. He pointed out that the building will be served by public water and the Riverhead Sewer District. He said the development will also provide more property taxes and revenue to the library district.
Kent added that trees on the library’s property will “have a greater impact on the solar panels than our building will ever have.”
Regarding parking, Kent said the development will have its own parking stalls and will also use the underutilized municipal parking lot across the street for overflow parking.
“To the folks at the library and historic district, I would be happy to meet with them to discuss personally any of the concerns that they might have,” said applicant Greg DeRosa of G2D. ”Because I think we can address them and make them feel comfortable that we do what we say we’re going to do and we’re going to treat them with integrity and fairness and make sure that if this goes forward, and it’s what I think it could be for the Town of Riverhead and that site, in particular, that they’ll be happy with the result,” DeRosa said.
Van Howell of Riverhead took issue with the town not doing extensive environmental review of the project. He said the building, which was previously a medical office, should have further environmental impact review because of potential medical waste.
The town board in September assumed lead agency for purposes of environmental review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act and, determining that the project would not have significant impacts that require mitigation, issued a negative declaration under SEQRA, dispensing with further environmental review. The proposal is within the Railroad Avenue Urban Renewal Area Overlay District, which was the subject of extended environmental review and its potential impacts do not exceed those studied for adoption of that district, according to town officials.
Howell, who was at the IDA meeting the previous night, said he thinks the rent for the building’s apartments will be too expensive.
“I think if I was one of those types of folks that was going to rent a beautiful apartment in a beautiful neighborhood and take the Long Island Railroad for a short, convenient commute into New York City where it’s doing some kind of an artsy or high tech job that gives me the money to rent a place like this, I’m not sure that this is where I’m gonna want to live,” he said.
During the IDA hearing, DeRosa said the estimated rentals will be in the upper $2,000s for two bedrooms, around $2,000 for a one bedroom, and about $1,600 for a studio apartment. “I think we’re gonna really need to get that for this project to be successful, which I think we’ll get,” he said on Monday.
“Everything that we do is pretty, pretty high-end,” he added. “So we spend a lot of time on design, and on the finish, and we tried to deliver a project that’s gonna last a long time.”
Diane Burke, the executive director of East End Arts, came out in support of the development. She said that her organization has partnered with G2D and the developer has “been very community focused and centered on bringing good things to Riverhead.”
Brian DeLuca, the executive director of the Long Island Aquarium, also spoke highly of the developers. He said they have been very responsive and accommodating of the aquarium’s requests in connection with another apartment building they are currently constructing on East Main Street. G2D even helped install a piece of art in Grangebel Park, DeLuca said.
“They’ve been good neighbors thus far,” he said. “Just here to say that I’m happy to embrace what they’re doing in the town.”
Former Councilwoman Barbara Blass gave no opinion of the project as a whole, but said the town board had made a procedural error by not requiring a special permit for the mixed-use building, which she noted was one of more than a dozen uses in the Railroad Avenue Urban Renewal Area Overlay District the code says is “specially permitted” with town board approval. The town board did not address her comments.
Written comments on the site plan are open until Dec. 17 and can be submitted to the town clerk.
The project’s application for tax incentives was the subject of a public hearing before the Industrial Development Agency at its meeting Monday night. The developers are pursuing a $117,562 mortgage tax exemption on a $15.7 million 10-year mortgage and an estimated $702,294 state and local sales and use tax exemption on approximately $8.1 million in costs of goods and services subject to those taxes. The applicant is also requesting a 10-year enhanced real property tax abatement.
The IDA hearing drew few people. Those who spoke during the hearing commented on aspects of the project outside the scope of the application for financial assistance before the IDA. IDA Chairman Jim Farley urged residents to attend the town board’s public hearing on the site plan the following afternoon and address those comments to the town board.
The Riverhead Central School District sent a letter objecting to some of the benefits. Proposed PILOT payments — payments in lieu of taxes — “present imminent and crucial concerns for the school district” because they represent a decrease in revenue, according to the letter from Michael Raniere of Ingerman Smith, legal counsel to the district.
PILOTs also suppress the district’s tax base growth factor, because calculation of the tax base growth factor must PILOT payments, Raniere explained. The tax base growth factor is one component in the calculation of the tax cap. The reduction of the tax base growth factor by PILOT payments will have “long-standing negative consequences for the district that will never be recaptured and will increase exponentially over time,” Raniere wrote.
The school district enrollment projection in G2D’s economic report prepared by Camoin Associates is “misleading and inconsistent with prior experience in the school district,” Raniere wrote. The report states the development will result in fewer than three new students attending the district’s schools. “This is not consistent with what has taken place in other developments in the school district and it is unclear why the report indicates that there will be a deviation from such prior experience,” Raniere said in the letter. He did not provide enrollment numbers for the other developments he referenced or specify what developments he was citing. The proposed building is in the attendance zone of Roanoke Avenue Elementary School, which the district says is already at capacity.
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