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Prayer push for stalled Riverhead project

Robert A. Brown from Riverhead attended a prayer

Robert A. Brown from Riverhead attended a prayer vigil held on the grounds by The First Baptist Church of Riverhead to support the development of the Family Community Life Center in Riverhead. (March 16, 2013) Credit: Randee Daddona

Arranged in a prayer circle outside a Riverhead church, they made their pleas, one by one.

"Lord, we're looking for a miracle to take place," said the Rev. Michael Jackson, of Triune Baptist Church in Sag Harbor.

Jackson was joined Saturday by nearly 100 people, all of whom are tired of the false starts that have characterized a decades-long quest to bring a community center to the Town of Riverhead. They figured if not the town board, maybe a higher authority could speed up the process.

The latest plan, which calls for creating the Family Community Life Center next to First Baptist Church of Riverhead on Northville Turnpike, has been stymied for a couple of years. Some town board members are concerned that the community center project, which includes 132 "workforce" housing units on 12.5 acres, is too dense and would be exempt from taxes as a nonprofit owned by the church.

"It's a good use; I just think it should be scaled down a little bit," said Jodi Giglio, a town councilwoman who did not attend the event outside First Baptist.

Residents and religious leaders Saturday said Riverhead desperately needs a community center.

"This community doesn't really have a place where everyone can go," said Elise Coverdale-Mancini, a mother of seven whose father is pastor of First Baptist. "After school, they don't know where to go."

The project would cost an estimated $62 million, said Cleveland Johnson Jr., of Strategic Fundraising Inc., a Bay Shore company assisting with the project.

Johnson said the community center would accommodate both younger residents and seniors, with walking tracks, a performance arts theater, a 24-hour day care center and a large indoor swimming pool.

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