Planning Board members Dick O'Dea, Ed Densieski, Joann Waski and George Nunnaro, and attorney Eileen Powers listen to HK Ventures' attorney Keith Brown at the board's April 6 meeting. Photo: Alek Lewis

Delaying construction of a proposed 413,000-square-foot industrial complex in Calverton until after the State Department of Transportation improves the intersection at Middle Country Road and Edwards Avenue is “an absolute deal-killer,” the developer’s attorney told the Riverhead Planning Board on Thursday.

The condition was one of several included proposed by the Riverhead planning department in a draft document that would form the basis of the board’s approval of the project site plan. It was the only condition that drew stiff opposition from the applicant’s attorney, Keith Brown, who argued that it is unfair to tie up his client’s project in the unpredictable work schedule of a “behemoth” state agency like the State DOT.

HK Ventures of Great Neck is seeking approval to construct eight warehouse buildings on a 30-acre site on Middle Country Road, just east of Fresh Pond Avenue. 

The environmental impact study done for the proposal identified significant adverse impacts from traffic as a result of the new development. Among them are the impacts on the already problematic intersection of Middle Country Road and Edwards Avenue. The State DOT has plans to improve the intersection by widening it and adding exclusive left-turn lanes at all approaches. 

The state recently pushed back the start date on the intersection improvement project to next year, with anticipated completion in early 2025.

Attorney Keith Brown at the Riverhead Planning Board meeting April 6. Photo: Alek Lewis

“There’s no guarantee they will adhere to it,” Brown told the Planning Board. “They postponed it once, they may again. We have no control over it,” he said.

Brown asked to compromise with a mitigation plan that would allow construction to begin before the intersection work is completed. If the intersection isn’t completed when the new complex is ready for occupancy, Brown suggested, the mitigation plan could identify alternative routes that could be used to detour traffic to avoid that intersection.

“And what route would that be?” Planning Board Chairperson Joann Waski asked.

“It would not be that intersection. It would have to be dispersed,” Brown replied.

Riverhead Planner Greg Bergman said any mitigation plan would have to be assessed with a supplemental environmental impact statement. 

Brown objected. “We don’t want to go backwards,” he said, noting that the applicant had already been required to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement to analyze cumulative traffic impacts taking into account applications filed after his client’s application.

“We’re not against the project,” Planning Board Member George Nunnaro said. “You don’t have to live with that intersection. We do.”

Brown said if the applicant and the board work together, they could “come up with a mitigation plan that we can both live with.”

He said the project has been in “a holding pattern” since the supplemental EIS was completed in October. 

“I’m passionate about it because it’s critical,” Brown said about his opposition to the intersection improvement condition.

“We’re passionate about it too, because this is our town,” Waski said.

Architect’s rendering of HK Ventures’ proposed industrial complex on Middle Country Road in Calverton. Image:BLD Architecture

Bergman said it’s appropriate to condition the project’s building permits on the intersection work, rather than condition the issuance of a certificate of occupancy on it, because the building permit is “the last discretionary act.” The issuance of a certificate of occupancy is “almost an administrative function” if the applicant has met the conditions of the building permit, Bergman said.

“If there’s further delays with the DOT after the applicant has spent tens of millions of dollars” and the project may be ready for occupancy, “then we have to scramble to try to figure this out,” Bergman said.

“We hope the DOT gets its act together,” Brown said. “We should all push the DOT. But to just say tie me to the DOT? Oy vey. I don’t want to be tied to the DOT for anything,” he said.

Brown asked the town to write to the DOT and ask it to prioritize the Edwards Avenue intersection project.

Planning Board Member Ed Densieski said, while he’s “not a traffic engineer,” he is an “expert on traffic in Riverhead” and has a lot of experience with the intersection in question.

“If you do this project before that intersection is fixed, you’re going to create a big, big, big problem. That’s just my opinion,” Densieski said.

“I agree,” Waski said. “I really do not think that the time is right to have these trucks coming in, and this area needs to be fixed. That intersection is horrible. And like Ed said, we’re on these roads every day, and we see how hard it is to navigate through there,” Waski said.

The HK Ventures application, initially filed in early 2020, is at the end of the State Environmental Quality Review process, which requires the adoption of a “findings statement,” the basis for the lead agency’s final action on an application. A findings statement is prepared after the lead agency completes its review and adopts a final environmental impact statement that identifies adverse environmental impacts and spells out ways to mitigate, or lessen, those impacts.

The findings statement, once adopted, is the basis for the reviewing agency’s decision on the project. The HK Ventures findings statement is “positive” findings statement because it concludes that the project will not have significant adverse environmental impacts if the conditions recited in the document are met.

The findings statement, which Bergman prepared, was on the agenda for discussion at the Planning Board’s March 2 meeting but was pulled at the request of the applicant.

Planning Board members did not act on the findings statement last week. Members agreed they need to have further discussion of it before reaching a decision.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor and attorney. Her work has been recognized with numerous journalism awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She was also honored in 2020 with a NY State Senate Woman of Distinction Award for her trailblazing work in local online news. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.