The nature of industrial development outside the Calverton Enterprise Park should be reduced and subject to improved design standards, according to preliminary recommendations presented last week by the consultants preparing Riverhead’s comprehensive plan update.
The recommendations include decreasing the allowable density of industrial development as-of-right with the option to increase density with the purchase of development rights under a reconstructed and more comprehensive transfer of development rights program, generating revenues to preserve farmland and open space along Sound Avenue. The increased density allowed with the purchase of development rights would still be less dense than what is allowed as of right by current code, according to the proposal.
A key recommendation presented by the consultants last week is merging the existing Industrial A and C zoning use districts outside the enterprise park and limiting the uses to those currently allowed in Industrial C. The current Industrial A zoning allows almost all industrial uses, while Industrial C allows lighter, less intense industrial uses. The recommendations include a 100-foot front-yard setback, which is currently required in the Industrial A district; Industrial C zoning currently allows a 30-foot front yard setback. Both Industrial A and Industrial C zoning currently applies to much of the south side of Middle Country Road, (N.Y. Route 25) from Old Country Road to the enterprise park.
Those recommendations and several others were presented to the Town Board Thursday by Noah Levine of BFJ Planning, the firm hired to complete the work on the town’s long-delayed comprehensive plan update. The plan is a long-range, all-encompassing blueprint for the future of a municipality, guiding it on a wide range of issues, the most impactful of those being how land should be used and what development should be allowed or prohibited, incentivized and disincentivized.
The amount and type of industrial zoning and industrial uses have been hotly debated topics in Town Hall and in the community. It is one of the central issues to be addressed in the long-anticipated comp plan update, which was last rewritten in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Town officials say the districts are important for the town’s economic development and tax base growth, while residents argue the town should revise and update zoning to reflect current industrial uses, such as high-cube warehouses and logistics/distribution centers relied upon in e-commerce. The number and size of proposals for facilities like that have alarmed residents, particularly Calverton residents, who have demanded that town officials act to protect the Calverton hamlet’s character and relieve increasing development pressure in the hamlet.
“We know that there are a lot of concerns amongst the community about the impacts of heavy industrial uses in the area. We’ve heard that from Calverton Civic and others,” Levine said. “We also know that this area has been targeted in prior plans as an opportunity for some economic development and growth and jobs and so on,” he said.
“This plan is looking to find some kind of a balance between concerns about development and also allowing for some development that is compatible with the kind of rural and bucolic surroundings,“ Levine said.
Specifically, recommendations for decreasing development density call for reducing floor-area ratio, which controls the maximum amount of a building’s floor area in proportion to the land it occupies. The proposal is to reduce the current floor-area ratio from .4 — the current standard in both Industrial A and Industrial C zoning districts — to .25.
For example, under current zoning, a 10-acre parcel of industrial land can develop a maximum floor area of 174,240 square feet. If the floor area ratio were changed to .25, the maximum floor area of that development would be decreased to 108,900 square feet. That represents a 37.5% reduction in floor area allowed under current zoning.
The developer would be able to increase the floor-area ratio to .3 with the purchase of development rights. Using the previous example of a 10-acre parcel, the maximum developable floor area would be 130,680 square feet. This represents a 25% reduction in floor area allowed under current zoning.
Levine also brought up the possibility of rezoning industrial land in certain areas of the town, primarily in the Riverhead hamlet, to Light Industrial, and implement design standards to “limit visual impact” of industrial development and blend it with surrounding areas. Also under discussion is rezoning parcels on the north side of Middle Country Road east of Manor Road from their present Industrial A zoning to Light Industrial.
Merging the existing Industrial A and C districts and applying the Industrial C rules would also reduce maximum impervious surfaces on property currently zoned Industrial A to 60% from 70%. The biggest impact of this change would be on commercial solar energy production facilities. In response to community concern about the number and scope of solar facilities in the Calverton hamlet, where all the town’s solar production facilities have so far been built, the Town Board in 2021 imposed a moratorium on new commercial solar facilities. The moratorium has been extended and is currently in place. It exempted projects with pending applications.
Much of Levine’s presentation Thursday focused on the need to revamp Riverhead’s transfer of development rights program. Other than industrial districts, the preliminary recommendations include creating development-right receiving areas in mixed commercial and residential districts, where developers could use purchased development rights to increase as-of-right density under the code.
One suggestion is to allow developers to exceed the 500-unit residential unit cap on mixed-use buildings in the Downtown Center 1 zoning district — which applies to a portion of East Main Street in downtown Riverhead, so long as the units to be developed are for home ownership. Currently, all the housing in mixed-use buildings downtown are rentals.
Increased density with transfer of development rights would also be allowed in the Peconic River Community district, which applies along most of West Main Street from Griffing Avenue to Mill Road, and in the Commercial Residential Campus district, which applies to land on the south side of upper East Main Street between the shopping plaza opposite Town Hall and Hubbard Avenue, as well as to property on the north side of Elton Street west of East Main Street, and much of the area on Main Road between Doctors Path and County Road 105.
Under a revised transfer of development rights program, development rights would be more valuable in some districts than others, Levine said. The TDR market is “not working right now,” Levine said, and the town needs to increase the demand for its credits in order to preserve more farmland.
The recommendations also include allowing the preservation of land in the Residence B-80 district — a low-density single-family residential development district that also allows agricultural production.
Development rights could also be used to allow the development of assisted living facilities and nursing homes, which would be primarily situated along Route 58 and around Peconic Bay Medical Center, Levine said.
Planners also discussed the expansion of the hospital zoning district, which currently takes in Peconic Bay Medical Center, to include the former McGann-Mercy High School campus, now owned by the hospital, and expanding the district to include more supportive uses.
“We met with the hospital and understand that they have long term plans to expand and also think about, kind of a more dynamic center that incorporates other wellness uses, such as medical related retail, childcare, a gym, senior housing, etc. And then also some housing for their staff and workers and so on,” Levine. “And so we’ve just indicated some properties nearby and zoning could support those efforts.”
The comprehensive plan process will also “clean up” the current zoning code to make it more clear and consistent for people reading it. This includes, Levine said, defining land uses which are not addressed or clearly defined in the current town code. Some terms the town will seek to add or clarify include: convenience stores; assisted living; cargo port ; warehouses, high-cube storage, logistics and fulfillment; kennels; banquet facility; catering facility; indoor commercial recreation; artist dwelling; and two-story detached garages (for arts studio), according to BFJ’s Powerpoint presentation. (See below.) The town also intends to create a use schedule that could categorize land uses “into groups according to their impact on the environment, infrastructure, and surrounding areas.”
Other recommendations presented by Levine include:
- Adopt design guidelines for commercial development on Route 58, including requirements that buildings be buildings closer to the highway and landscape buffers. The plan will also examine the parking requirements for development on Route 58, which Town Board members agreed was “too high.”
- Adopt design guidelines for hamlet and village centers around town. Levine said these design guidelines should be “locally specific” and be devised in a separate process, similar to the downtown pattern book.
- Consider reducing short-term rentals in certain tourist-centric areas from 28 days to two weeks.
- Consider adding a permit process for private special events at farms.
- Provide “flexibility” in the zoning district of Tanger Outlets and the Destination Retail district.
- Implement a zoning district near the waterfront “similar to Southampton’s resort waterfront business zone, which allows boat storage, restaurants, etc.”
- Lift the residential unit cap in the DC-1 district for historic buildings.
- Consider allowing vertical farming in industrial districts, as well in the agricultural protection zoning district with certain standards.
The Town Board also heard from its transportation consultants, LKMA, about priority transportation and traffic projects. (A separate story will be published.)
Levine said the firm will present the Town Board with a draft scoping document — required for the plan’s environmental review process — in October. The firm will continue to have regular meetings with town staff and with the advisory committee established to advise on the plan, which includes both town officials, business leaders and a civic representative.
The second public workshop for the plan — which will be the last chance for the public to speak on the plan before the required public hearing in front of the Town Board — will take place on Nov. 15. The location for that meeting has yet to be determined.
The survival of local journalism depends on your support.
We are a small family-owned operation. You rely on us to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Just a few dollars can help us continue to bring this important service to our community.
Support RiverheadLOCAL today.