Affordable housing for artists planned for downtown Riverhead

12/04/2014 11:50 AM |
BARBARAELLEN KOCH | The Long Island Science Center would move if apartments get built.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH | The Long Island Science Center would move if apartments get built.

A five-story apartment building planned for the Long Island Science Center site went from market-rate “luxury” apartments to “workforce housing” affordable apartments earlier this year.

The plans have now seen another change.

“The latest breaking news is that we intend for this to be housing for the artist community,” said Marianne Garvin, the president and chief executive officer of the non-profit Community Development Corporation of Long Island.

She was speaking to members of the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency Monday night, during a public hearing on proposed tax incentives for the project, which is a joint venture between the CDC and Rochester-based, for-profit developer Conifer Realty.

The project is being called Peconic Crossing.

The building would still contain 48 affordable rental units. In order to win a lease, proposed tenants would have to meet income guidelines based on the area median income for Suffolk County, which is $73,600, according to the CDC.

However, it will give a preference to prospective tenants who are artists and can document that, Ms. Garvin said.

The project would have a common area for arts and a balcony overlooking the Peconic River that could be used for art events, she said.

The project would be modeled after the 45-unit Artspace apartment complex in Patchogue, according to Allen Handelman, Conifer’s vice president of development.

“Artspace Patchogue has been very successful in bringing artists to downtown Patchogue,” he said.

Conifer is also building artist housing in Rochester, Mr. Handelman said. Artspace, a Minnesota-based nonprofit, had actually considered building a project in Riverhead in 2005 before eventually choosing Patchogue.

Six of the proposed units in Peconic Crossing would be for households with incomes at or below 50 percent of the  county median income, while 33 units will be for households with incomes at or below 60 percent of the county median income, and nine units will be targeted for incomes at about 120 percent of the county median income.

For a one-person household, that works out to an annual income of $36,800 at 50 percent of the AMI, $44,160 at 60 percent of AMI, and $88,320 at 120 percent.

For a two-person household, those numbers are $42,050, $50,460 and $100,920 respectively.

The projected rents for the apartments are between $952 and $1,133 per month for a one-bedroom apartment, and between $1,141 and $1,528 for a two-person apartment. Heat and hot water would be included in that rent, but electric would be paid by the tenant, Mr. Handelman said.

The application calls for 32 two-bedroom units and 16 one-bedroom units.

Mr. Handelman said the project would create about 60 construction jobs but would have only two part-time permanent positions at the apartments.

The CDC would not be giving preferences to Riverhead Town residents in terms of being selected for the units, because residency preferences are now “problematic” under federal fair housing regulations, Ms. Garvin said.

Peconic Crossing is seeking IDA tax breaks on sales taxes on building supplies used in the construction, county mortgage recording taxes, and a partial tax abatement on property taxes.

The IDA can provide tax exemptions only on the value of the improvements made by a development, and not on the existing land value.

Their “uniform” property tax abatement starts at 50 percent and decreases by five percent each year over 10 years, until the project is paying 100 percent of its property taxes, although the IDA can grant different tax abatements and has given 100 percent tax abatements to some projects, such as the Long Island Aquarium on East Main Street.

In this case, the applicants plan to demolish the existing Long Island Science Center building and build a new structure, while the Science Center plans to move into the former West Marine building on East Main Street.

The applicants did not ask for a specific exemption at Monday’s hearing and have said in the past that the amount of the tax incentives would be subject to negotiation.

Former Riverhead Supervisor Jim Stark voiced opposition to giving tax breaks for the project at Monday’s public hearing.

“As a resident taxpayer of the Town of Riverhead, I am totally against the taxpayer footing the bill for any development,” Mr. Stark said. “They have the right to come to Riverhead. If under the zoning it is (permitted) they can build.

“But I don’t think we have to subsidize it.”

Pat Snyder, the executive director of the East End Arts Council, voiced support for the project and the tax incentives..

“East End Arts is ready and willing to support the marketing and research of artists in the area,” she said. “This is an endorsement for the fact that Riverhead is on the brink of being a creative community and is really bursting as a creative community and this will only add to that.”

Asked if she feels there is a need for artist housing in Riverhead, Ms. Snyder said she has not had artists come to her, but based on the fact that the Patchogue Artspace project is full, she feels it’s is a good indication of the demand for artist housing.

“Because of the projects coming into town, I think Riverhead will be very attractive to artists in the near future,” Ms. Snyder said.

The 48-unit apartment project was originally proposed as a for-profit luxury apartment complex under a prior developer, Simshabs X, which also had an application for IDA tax breaks, but subsequently pulled out of the project.

While Peconic Crossing is basically the same project, they have made some changes to their application, which were not reflected in the application on file with the IDA. So IDA members said that means they could not approve the project’s tax incentive request on Monday, and will need a new public hearing notice for the continuation of the hearing on Jan. 5.

These hearings include the change in use to artist housing, as well as an increase in the anticipated cost of the project, from $16.7 million to $17.3 million.

Mr. Handelman said they also are proposing to pull the footprint of the project back off the Peconic River slightly, and they have reduced the number of parking spaces proposed on the ground floor of the building from 48 to 40. They also would eliminate the existing roadway behind the building and make it into parkland, Mr. Handelman said.

The project is in the public parking district, meaning it can use town parking lots for its parking.

The proposal calls for both an entrance and exit on Peconic Avenue but only an entrance from West Main Street.

The applicants also plan to seek other financing for the project, specifically federal Low Income housing Tax Credits which are allocated by the state on a completive basis, and other funding from the county and state.

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