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Riverhead may alter language in quality review guidelines to speed up development approvals

Sons Riverhead LLC is seeking permission from the

Sons Riverhead LLC is seeking permission from the Town of Riverhead to split the 45,085-square-foot former Sports Authority store on Old Country Road into three storefronts. Photo Credit: Yellow House Images / Andrew Theodorakis

Riverhead officials are considering changing language in the town's environmental quality review rules concerning buildings with large parking lots to help speed up the development of vacant buildings along the Route 58 corridor.

Jefferson V. Murphree, Riverhead's building and planning administrator, told the Riverhead Town Board at its work session on Thursday that the town had been hitting “stumbling blocks” with certain building proposals along the Route 58 corridor, where there are vacant properties with large parking lots containing 50 or more parking spaces.

The town’s current environmental quality review guidelines state that any proposals with “parking facilities or other facilities . . . where the total number of parking spaces, including both existing and proposed parking, is 50 spaces or greater" must be classified as a Type 1 action. Under Type 1 rules, a stricter — and lengthier — environmental review process is mandated.

“That means [building applicants] have to fill out the 30-page long-form environmental assessment form. It requires a mandatory 30-day coordination period with other involved agencies . . . it requires a public hearing," Murphree said. "That’s a lot of time and effort on the part of the applicant, and here we are, trying to promote filling these vacant stores.”

As one example, Murphree pointed to a pending application from Sons Riverhead LLC to split the 45,085-square-foot former Sports Authority building at Old Country Road into three storefronts. The current regulations would add 60 to 90 days to the process, Murphree said.

As a solution, Murphree suggested taking out the word “existing” from the environmental rule, which he said would exempt locations with parking spaces that have already gone through environmental review from another round of such reviews.

“If you already have 50 parking spaces and you have a site plan that has already gone through site plan review and already gone through SEQRA [State Environmental Quality Review Act], why are we banging them with a second time [doing environmental review]?” Murphree said. 

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio asked Murphree to send her more details to pass along to the town’s Business Advisory Committee for further review.

Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said that while “proposed” parking should still remain subject to Type 1 review, she was fine with amending the rules because they were not meant to hamper the progress of development along Route 58.

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