A plan to create a new zoning category in Riverhead that would, for the first time, allow construction of adult care assisted living retirement communities was strongly supported Tuesday by officials at Peconic Bay Medical Center, the town's only hospital.

"We clearly see the need for these kinds of facilities," said Jay Zuckerman, vice president for public affairs at the 200-bed medical center. "There are condos on Middle Road that are 10 and 55 years old . . . people there are aging in place."

The town board held its third public hearing on the proposal Tuesday. And, while officials left it open for written comment until June 15, they indicated that the town saw a need for facilities where people could get medical support while living on their own.

Supervisor Sean Walter said assisted living retirement housing could become part of the town's development at the Enterprise Park at Calverton, a vast 3,000-acre town-owned facility that officials are working to subdivide for industrial, recreational and park use.

The proposed category would require such facilities to be near shopping, medical offices, public services and transportation -- none of which exist at EPCAL.

An aging local population has already forced the hospital to increase its orthopedic services and other care that elderly residents demand. Tuesday, the town board noted that assisted living facilities also put more strain on local volunteer ambulance crews and discussed ways they could help pay for extra services.

Walter said his town is considering charging Medicare and Medicaid for ambulance calls. "Other municipalities bill for their ambulance service," he noted.

The Residence RC District zoning would permit "suitable facilities and services that are sufficiently adequate to provide seniors and disabled older individuals with comfortable and safe homelike housing in a congregate setting while providing a continuum of care . . . "

Zuckerman said his hospital, which has an extensive physical therapy unit, was "more than willing to work with developers to set up such a program."

Under the proposal, such housing would be restricted to building sites of at least 15 acres, and would be limited to two dwellings per acre. Builders could increase that to four housing units per acre by purchasing development rights from other property in the town set aside for preservation.

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While the town could adopt the new zoning code as soon as its next meeting on June 19, Walter said that any property owner wanting to build such housing would first have to request a zoning change, then file a site plan showing in detail what they propose to build and how it would impact their neighbors.