Tim Gannon, Staff Writer
“A proposed 45-unit affordable apartment building on West Main Street received final site plan approval from the Riverhead Town Planning Board Thursday night.
Peconic Crossing, a joint venture between Rochester-based Conifer Realty and the nonprofit Community Development Corporation of Long Island, was approved by 3-1 vote, with Planning Board member George Nunnaro absent, and Planning Board chairman Stan Carey voting no because of parking concerns.
The proposal calls for Conifer to demolish the Long Island Science Center building on 11 W. Main St. to build a new, five-story building with 45 apartments and 34 ground-level parking stalls.
The project is located within the town’s public parking district, which allows for tenants to use town parking lots.
Planning Board members had expressed concerns during the project’s review that there may not be many parking spaces left in downtown Riverhead.
The project has been before the Planning Board for a little over a year, and replaced a similar 48-unit, for-profit apartment proposal called Blue River Estate, which had been proposed in 2013 on the same land, but was never approved by the town.
So what’s the next step?
“We’d like to break ground soon, but our contract with the Science Center provides them time to find a suitable location,” said Allen Handelman, Conifer’s vice president of development. “Hopefully, by the end of the year, we’ll break ground.”
The Long Island Science Center plans to use the money from the sale of the building to buy another building at a new location, according to Science Center board member Larry Oxman.
“We’re searching right now,” he said, adding that negotiating for a new location was hampered by not having the approval for Peconic Crossing.
After the approval, Mr. Handelman said: “Now there’s a level of certainty that didn’t exist an hour ago.”
“This clears the hurdle,” Mr. Oxman added. “Everything we had looked at would have had to have been conditional on this [approval] taking place. Now that this has taken place, we can negotiate.”
The Science Center at one point was in contract to buy the former West Marine building on East Main Street in downtown Riverhead, but that deal fell through.
Mr. Oxman said they would prefer to find a new site downtown, and they would prefer to own, not lease.
“Tomorrow, I can start making calls and tell them the good news,” Mr. Oxman said of the site plan approval.
Peconic Crossing will have a waiting list for prospective tenants that will give preference to artists, Mr. Handelman said. The project proposes to have an art gallery and studio, and a new boardwalk and bulkhead along the Peconic River, among other things.
Perspective tenants must meet Suffolk County median income guidelines to qualify, with 35 of the apartments being available to people at 60 percent of the Suffolk County area median income, five others at 50 percent of the county median income and another five being available to people at 90 percent of the median income.
During the many hearings and meetings before the Planning Board, the applicant and the board disagreed over whether a road going behind the buildings from West Main Street to Peconic Avenue should remain open, as the town wanted.
Mr. Handelman argued that this road should only remain open to emergency vehicles, since it is mainly used by people trying to avoid the traffic signal at the intersection of Peconic Avenue and Route 25.
In the end, he conceded, “we’re providing whatever access the town wants.”
The town also required the proposed building to be redesigned to allow a fire lane between the southern portion of the building and the river.
The approval comes a day after Peconic Crossing had gotten a mention in Supervisor Sean Walter’s State of the Town speech.
“This project will bring a creativity and vitality to West Main Street that we have never seen before,” he said in his speech.”