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Riverhead church seeks council's OK to build community center, housing

Charles Coverdale, far right, pastor of the First

Charles Coverdale, far right, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Riverhead, looks over an illustration of how the Community Life Center will look during a meeting at the Culinary Arts Institute on Main Street in Riverhead. (Oct. 21, 2013) Credit: James Carbone

Officials from the First Baptist Church of Riverhead sought support Tuesday from the Long Island Regional Planning Council in the church's effort to build a Family Community Life Center on nearly 13 acres of its property, which would also provide "critically needed rental housing."

The proposal, said the Rev. Charles A. Coverdale, the church's senior pastor, was created "with a vision that our church could do something greater for the community at large."

Shirley E. Coverdale, the pastor's wife and president and chief executive of the Family Community Life Center Project, asked the council to name it one of regional significance, as it seeks to build greater support for the project, which doesn't have the majority support of the Riverhead Town Board.

Planning Council chairman John D. Cameron said the panel would deliberate on the request. He added, though, that naming a project regionally significant does not mean the council endorses it, only that the project meets certain criteria, such as having significant community or countywide impacts.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter, who is also on the planning council, said he supports the project but said other town board members have voiced concerns, particularly over the tax-exempt status of the church-owned property.

Officials from the Long Island Builders Institute and the Long Island Farm Bureau told the council they supported the church's project.

The proposal seeks to create, says a brochure, "a hub where families can come together to learn, live, work and play" by combining workforce housing with a performing arts center, a senior citizens wellness and day care center, and other amenities on 12.5 acres.

Shirley Coverdale, in an interview, referenced a report from Martin R. Cantor, who presented to the council the findings of his survey of Long Islanders ages 20 to 34, concluding young adults would leave the region because of the high cost of housing and the lack of options.

"We're seeking to reach the young professionals, just exactly what Marty Cantor talked about," Shirley Coverdale said. She said young medical professionals working locally "are leaving. They need housing. A lot of people, including teachers, are commuting into Riverhead, inconveniently so."

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