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Assisted living work-group: Do we really need more senior condos?

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An ad-hoc committee formed to work on a proposed assisted-living code amendment for Riverhead Town met for the first time yesterday afternoon.

The proposed code was the subject of a public hearing before the Town Board April 5.

The proposal is the initiative of Councilman John Dunleavy. He says Riverhead should allow for assisted-living communities for local residents, who are currently required to travel great distances for such housing. The distance to the nearest assisted-living facilities poses a hardship on family members of people who require such housing, the councilman says.

“People want to be near their relatives and friends, and should be able to stay right in their own communities,” Dunleavy said.

Current zoning does not allow for assisted-living facilities anywhere in the town.

The proposed code — actually a complete overhaul of the town’s current “retirement community” zoning — would allow assisted-living facilities on sites having a minimum lot size of 15 acres if they are inside or within 1,500 feet of the Riverhead water and sewer districts.

As drafted, the proposed code would allow the construction of “independent living” retirement community housing and convalescent care housing in addition to assisted-living housing.

At the conclusion of the public hearing earlier this month, the Town Board decided the draft needed more work and agreed to convene an ad-hoc committee to discuss and propose revisions. In addition to Dunleavy, the work group consists of deputy town attorney Ann Marie Prudenti, Peconic Bay Medical Center president and CEO Andrew Mitchell, Riverhead attorney Charles Cuddy, longtime Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps officer Bruce Talmage, IDA director Tracy Stark-James, Concordia Senior Communities CEO Ron DeVito, and Riverhead school board member Angela DeVito, who has a background in public health. (She is not related to Ron DeVito.)

Existing acreage within the town’s retirement community zoning use district — which is largely in the Middle Road corridor of central Riverhead — is already almost fully built-out. The town would have to change the rezone additional land to the retirement community zone to accommodate new proposals.

Concordia Senior Communities, a Melville-based developer of senior housing and care facilities, wants to build 105 “independent living” attached single-family homes, 50 “enriched housing program” apartments and 24 “assisted living” units on 25.2 acres along the east side of Mill Road, north of the Home Depot. The site stretches north to Middle Road, wrapping around three existing homes and a small farm on the corner of Mill and Middle roads.

Concordia has been discussing the plan for more than two years with various town officials, according to its website.

After spending time discussing the differences between “life care,” “congregate care,” assisted-living, and independent living communities, a majority of the ad-hoc committee members agreed that the revisions to the existing code should focus on providing for assisted-living facilities.

Mitchell said Riverhead already has enough nursing home and skilled nursing rooms. Peconic Bay operates a 60-bed skilled nursing facility. There is also a 181-bed nursing home, Riverhead Care Center, located in Riverhead.

Angela DeVito said the town already has enough independent living retirement communities. There were probably more than 1,000 retirement community condos and townhouses built in the past decade, she said, in addition to several mobile and manufactured home parks predominantly populated by senior citizens, she said. The town should step back and assess the need for assisted living units before changing the retirement community code, she said.

Cuddy, who has represented the developers of some of those communities, said he doesn’t see why the town would be down-zoning land, giving developers of these communities under the new code four units per acre as of right. Under the current retirement community code, a developer is allowed one unit per acre as of right and to increase density to four units per acre must purchase farmland development rights.

Talmage said more retirement communities, whether or not assisted-living communities, would further burden the volunteer ambulance corps.

“We’ll deal with it. We always do,” Talmage said. But it’s a good idea to ask the developers to contribute to improving or expanding the corps’ facilities, he said.

Dunleavy said the Town Board code committee would begin to work on a second draft of the law. “We’ll regroup, work on this more and then get this group together again,” the councilman said.

Jules Klein, a Jamesport property owner who would like to build an assisted-living complex in that hamlet, said the minimum size of the dwelling units called out in the draft proposed code was too small. “People don’t want to live in dog houses,” Klein said.

Middle Road residents Marsha Kipperman and Donna Teuber said they objected to the site plan they saw on Concordia’s website. It is too big and too dense and would be developed mostly on land within the agricultural protection zone, Kipperman said.

“The traffic on Mill and Middle roads is already unbearable since all the development happened,” she added.