Plans advance for 48-unit apartment building on W. Main Street

Denise Civiletti, Staff Writer
Riverhead Local

“A 48-unit rent-regulated apartment building proposed for West Main Street got a crucial funding approval from a state housing agency last week and is moving through the final stages of review by the Riverhead Planning Board.

If approved by the town, the Peconic Crossing project planned for 11 West Main Street will increase the number of new workforce housing rental units in downtown Riverhead by two-thirds, bringing the total to 119. Summerwind Square, with 52 apartments, opened in November 2013; Woolworth Apartments, with 19 units, opened in February.

Rents will range from $952-$1,133 per month for Peconic Crossing’s 16 one-bedroom apartments (maximum occupancy of two people) and $1,141-$1,528 for 32 two-bedroom units (maximum occupancy: four people). Heat and hot water are included. Rents are tied to tenants’ incomes, with maximum rents based on affordability scales tied to median household incomes in Suffolk County. See prior story for details.

The state grant, provided through special post-Sandy federal disaster relief assistance under the community development block grant program, requires the developer to give preference to residents displaced by Sandy. The developers have also told town officials they will grant preference to artists as well.

The influx of new residents is exactly what town officials hope will help spur the nascent revitalization of the long-struggling downtown district.

“There’s no question that building workforce housing downtown, bringing new residents to downtown, will move downtown revitalization forward,” Supervisor Sean Walter said in an interview last month. He cited the impacts of new residential development in the Village of Patchogue as one of the key factors that helped turn that downtown area around.

The approval of nearly $5.5 million in funding for the new apartment building, announced last week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is very exciting news for downtown Riverhead, the supervisor said last week.

Peconic Crossing, proposed by development partners Conifer Realty of Rochester and the nonprofit Community Development Corporation of Long Island of Centereach, will offer 32 two-bedroom units and 16 one-bedroom units in a five-story building overlooking Grangebel Park on the south side of West Main Street, just west of Peconic Avenue.

The developers are in contract to buy the site from the Long Island Science Center, which is currently hunting for new, larger quarters downtown, according to LISC board member Larry Oxman. The organization had entered into a contract to buy the former West Marine Building, but lost the contract when the pending sale of its existing property — a contingency of the purchase — could not be closed in time to meet the contract’s deadlines. Oxman told RiverheadLOCAL this month that LISC remains in negotiations with at least one other Main Street property owner.

Peconic Crossing’s contract with LISC gives the organization nine months from the date of the developer’s final approvals to relocate to a new space, Conifer vice-president Allen Handelman said at a May 7 Riverhead Planning Board meeting. During that time, Peconic Crossing will complete financing arrangements on the $17.5 million construction project.

Besides the state grants announced last week, the project is eligible for low-income tax credits from the N.Y. State Homes and Community Renewal agency. The tax credits provide incentives for investors and, according to Handelman, are the “primary engine” for financing.

Peconic Crossing is also seeking tax benefits from the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency in the form of real property tax abatements and sales and mortgage tax exemptions. The IDA held a public hearing on Peconic Crossing’s benefits application in December, but the developer “will need to reapply at this point because the scope of the project has changed,” IDA executive director Tracy Stark said yesterday. “There will have to be another public hearing.”

Handelman said this week Peconic Crossing will return to the IDA “once the planning board process is complete.”

The planning board held a public hearing on Peconic Crossing’s site plan application in February. The hearing was held open by the planning board and was continued and concluded on May 7.

“We are in the process of providing information to the planning department and board in response to the comments we have received on our site plan,” from town planners as well as other involved agencies, such as the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Handelman said this week.

At the May 7 hearing, much of the discussion centered on the status of a paved driveway behind stores on the south side of Main Street which is used by vehicles traveling between West Main Street and Peconic Avenue. Traffic crosses over the Science Center’s property as well as over property owned by Chase Bank. It does so without any legal right, according to the developer.

The developer plans to use that area of the site, blocking access from the driveway to Peconic Avenue.

“Any use has been casual and it’s been trespassing,” Handelman told the board.

Peconic Crossing attorney Kathleen Deegan Dickson told the board there is no recorded easement and “no evidence of an easement by proscription.” In fact, the route has been blocked from time to time by dumpsters and parked cars, she said. The bank’s approved site plan has marked stalls directly in its path.

Peconic Crossing’s traffic engineer Walter Dunn, of Dunn Engineering, which completed a traffic impact study for the project and conducted a traffic count on use of the narrow drive, told the board the path is used as a cut-through by vehicles looking to avoid traffic — and traffic lights — on Main Street.

“When people are taking a short-cut, they’re usually in a hurry and they speed,” Dunn said. Allowing vehicles to use that drive as a shortcut is dangerous for pedestrians in the area.

The majority of people otherwise using the driveway are going to the laundromat, Dunn said.

Dunn said the traffic impacts from the apartment building will be so negligile they won’t even be noticeable.

“A traffic engineer’s rule of thumb is that if traffic by a proposed use is less than 5 percent of existing traffic, you’re never going to see it — it will be absorbed,” Dunn said. He said traffic increases from the apartment building will be .9 percent in the a.m., 1.1 percent mid-day and 1.1 percent in the p.m. “That’s considerably less than 5 percent.”

Residential apartments generate fewer traffic trips than other uses, Dunn said.

The ground floor of the site will provide 36 parking spaces for tenants. The parking area will have an entrance — but no exit — from West Main Street and an entrance/exit on Peconic Avenue.

Now that the planning board public hearing is concluded, the board and planning department staff, which has gathered comments from all involved agencies, will review the developer’s responses to those comments and make a decision on the site plan application.

Once Peconic Crossing has all required approvals, it can close on its financing.

The developer hopes to commence construction by December or early in 2016. Construction is expected to take 14 to 16 months, according to Handelman.”