Kmart municipal complex canceled, town returns to drawing board with “first and foremost” court security concerns

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Riverhead Town will no longer pursue the old Kmart building on Route 58 and Northville Turnpike for a municipal complex.

City Councilor Tim Hubbard told RiverheadLOCAL in March that the city is considering the building to house almost all of its department and town hall offices, the Riverhead Senior Center and the new headquarters of the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps.

Hubbard, the board member who was pursuing the project, said in an interview last week that the city was looking to buy the building, but the owners of the building wanted to lease it to the city for at least 10 years with a first year possibility of purchase thereafter. A long-term lease with an option to buy was the initial proposal on the table, Hubbard told RiverheadLOCAL in March.

“Financially it was not the right deal for the taxpayers,” Hubbard said. “So for us to buy it back and reuse it ourselves, that would have worked. But this is not the case. So we are now looking for other options.

Renting the Kmart building is also not feasible as it would require a renovation that could violate current wage laws in the state, Hubbard said. If the city rented the building and the owners carried out the renovations, the city could face being found guilty of breaking those laws, Hubbard said. The city councilor said the analysis came from a report from the National Development Council, a non-profit community development consultant the city hired in July for three projects, including the Kmart site. The consultant was to assess the potential purchase or lease of the property, for a fee not exceeding $ 15,000.

The relocation of city offices would have helped solve the two-decade-old problem of the overcrowded and outdated Riverhead Town Justice Court, which shares a building with the Riverhead Police Department next to Town Hall on Howell Avenue . Once the offices are moved from City Hall, the city could reallocate this building for court use.

“At the end of the day, we have to bring the court into a new scenario. It’s first and foremost, ”Hubbard said.

Riverhead Town Judge Allen Smith in his office with plans for the armory building in March 2014. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Successive city councils, dating back to the early 2000s, have discussed the need to correct the space, safety and security issues surrounding the courthouse, but have taken no action.

Insufficient space in the building, constructed in the mid-1980s, raises many safety and security concerns. Safety and security issues were documented by the State Office of Court Administration in a 2006 facility assessment. The recommendations made by this agency 15 years ago have largely gone unheeded: installation of outdoor video cameras , bullet-proof exterior glazing, locked doors to restrict access to the sides and rear of the building, armed peace officers for metal detector personnel at the main point of entry, and more. During its regular operations before COVID-19, the busy city court often had people appearing in court waiting in lines that stretched outside the building and in the parking lot.

City judges have been pressuring the board for years to take action, with the late Judge Allen Smith leading the charge after he was elected in 2010, but city council, which authorized studies and renovation and / or relocation plans, crushed the plans because of their price tags, municipal authorities refusing to issue bonds to pay for improvements, expansions or moves.

Plans discussed by various councils include: a 2003 plan designed by the city’s engineering consultants, H2M, to expand the existing police and court building with a second floor and two additions to the first floor; a 2009 plan by architect Martin Sendlewski to expand the town hall to accommodate the court and connect the town hall to the current police and court building.

Architectural rendering of the old armory building on Route 58, after renovation for use as a justice and police complex.

The city even successfully applied to the state for ownership of the state armory site on Highway 58, after the state closed the armory, for a public safety complex project. Legislation transferring the 5.7-acre site to the city was passed by the state legislature and enacted by the governor in 2011.

City council spent $ 87,500 on an evaluation and design of the armory completed in 2013, but refused to undertake the renovations when the report showed the potential cost to be $ 13 million.

Hubbard said he previously supported the armory plan, but said last week that the armory was no longer on the table. The price has likely risen since the plan was developed seven years ago, he said, and he is concerned about how emergency vehicles might operate efficiently in the busy trade corridor. “It never really turned out to be a good idea,” he said.

Hubbard said the city would prefer to see the property used for a YMCA.

However, that would require an act from the state legislature to change the law that moved the armory site to the city for a dollar ten years ago. The legislation states that “the premises shall be improved and maintained for use by the police, court, public safety and recreation programs developed and managed by the Town of Riverhead Police Department.” The transfer contains a return clause stating that if the building is not used for the specified purpose, title will “revert to the people of New York State.” The state attorney general can sue for “a judgment declaring the restitution” of title in the state.

File photo: Denise Civiletti

The city is still considering expanding the Town Hall on Howell Avenue. Hubbard said one possible scenario is to build a multi-story building on the lawn outside the entrance and then connect that building to the existing one.

A second scenario is to build a brand new multi-story town hall where the building’s current parking lot is located, then demolish the current building and create a parking lot there, Hubbard said. Hubbard said the plans were being discussed between him and the city engineer and would be discussed with the board at a future working session.

The plan to build a new structure on the lawn outside the town hall and connect it to the existing building “is what the board appears to support,” supervisor Yvette Aguiar said on Friday.

City council has not discussed any scenarios or ideas at a public works session since January 2019, when judges met with city council to consider alternatives. Again nothing materialized other than the placement of a temporary work caravan being the police / court building last year to be used as offices by the two city judges.

Hubbard said the city is also considering purchasing the three-story building on Second Street that is currently the Entenmann campus of Peconic Bay Medical Center, but it is currently not for sale. In 2017, city officials discussed purchasing the building, the former headquarters of the Suffolk County National Bank, from People’s United Bank after People’s United acquired the Riverhead-based bank. Once again, the city did not act for fiscal reasons. Peconic Bay Medical Center then bought the property from People’s United.

City Councilor Catherine Kent, who previously said the Kmart space could be a good solution to the city’s problems when it was introduced, said in an interview last week that she didn’t like the space because it moves the town hall away from the city center.

Kent also said the RVAC headquarters in the building could have disrupted city meetings and the building’s senior center.

She said city council should consider adding a second floor to the police station building, in accordance with the 2003 H2M plan. Kent also proposed that a prefabricated building be erected on city property near the police station. font for more space, which she said was done by Southampton.

“I think we need to explore exactly what our needs are, what is best for us financially, look at our different options… and then weigh it all,” Kent said.

Hubbard’s current plans to expand Town Hall on Howell Avenue do not include space for a new RVAC headquarters. The ambulance company sought more space to meet increased demands for service. The Kmart building, had the plan been deemed feasible, would also have housed RVAC.

Hubbard said the city would explore RVAC’s original idea, to expand its headquarters to its current site on city-owned land on Osborn Avenue, adjacent to the Highways Department.

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