Guest Spot: In defense of Wading River development

06/09/2011 3:36 AM |

Over the past several months, as most Wading River residents are aware, a series of letters has arrived in our mailboxes on bold letterhead entitled “Save Wading River,” all signed by Dominique Mendez. The wording and tone of these letters contains phrases such as “… our town officials promised us nothing significant in the way of action … Not even a commitment to obey the law on the review of all this proposed mega-development.” So, naturally I became alarmed as the last thing I envisioned for my new hometown was to be another Route 58, filled with more drug stores, chain restaurants, fast food joints and outlet malls. In the interest of developing an informed opinion, however, I decided to investigate this issue further and became more acquainted with what plans, exactly, these commercial developer “culprits” had in mind, and I must say this turned out to be a fascinating experience.

Kenney Barra, the owner and proprietor of The Inn and Spa at East Wind, was kind enough to give me, a total stranger, 90 minutes of his time to further explain his development plans along the route 25A corridor. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Mr. Barra intends to build a lovely village, almost akin to a Milleridge Village, with little shops and restaurants in the shape of a small town square, between what is now The Village Beverage and the East Wind reception hall.  I was also impressed to learn that Mr. Barra also had several parties already interested in renting these prospective suites and that these shops were all to be mom-and-pop-type shops and not large, chain-type establishments. Yet, when I attended a “Save Wading River” function at the Shoreham-Wading River Library I was almost appalled at the misrepresentation of the very plans I myself was shown. Slogans like “food court” and “strip mall” were used to represent these lovely plans that would bring jobs and industry to our town. Not to mention the fact that the architectural designs used to build this village seem to fit right in with the rural character that Wading River so proudly boasts — that is to say, cute little houses and water fountains to be polished with immaculate landscaping.

During the course of my investigation, I as well found myself speaking with another entrepreneur, Keith Luce of the Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport. This fine chef and businessman has become a victim of Ms. Mendez’ Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, too. For those who have not yet had the pleasure of having a gourmet meal at Jedidiah Hawkins, you are missing a lovely evening or charming lunch.  Fine wine and great food are featured from our local vineyards and quaint farm stands. Yet Mr. Luce, in an attempt to fill his vacant barn with highly expensive suites that cater to Manhattan’s elite class, has been yet another civic association punching bag. According to a May 7, 2011, article entitled “Town code change would allow more rooms at the inn,” which appeared on RiverhealLocal.com, Phil Barbato and Dominique Mendez wrote, “What is the point of planning, codes and zoning if every time a business (or for that matter a resident) asks for an exception, they are given a variance or the code is changed.”

Again I find myself at a crossroads. Mr. Luce has a vacant barn on his property that he is looking to use for additional bedrooms to his lovely inn and, I might add, to aid as an offset to his $50,000 per annum property tax bill. Is it really necessary to drag this businessman, who creates jobs and industry for our town, through the mud for some obscure purpose? What disruption is this to the community?

While the concept of neighborhood civic associations appears noble, it seems as though they may have gone awry or that, I hate to say, there is some other agenda at hand. For while I am a conservative and favor business development and property rights, I also love the rural nature of our community and would certainly hate to see it vanish at the expense of massive commercial development. However, several of the proposals the Town of Riverhead is currently facing seem hardly unreasonable and, in fact, quite advantageous for the community. After all, what’s so bad about spending a romantic evening with your significant other at the Jedediah Hawkins Inn; enjoying fine wine and magnificent food, then waking up the next day to a gourmet breakfast? Perhaps you have a Saturday evening wedding at the glorious Inn and Spa at East Wind and decide to enjoy a fine Sunday lunch at one of the local “mom and pop” restaurants in the village, followed by a romantic afternoon at the vineyards.

We have much to offer to our neighbors “up west” and much to gain in the process. By all means, let’s not let that opportunity pass us by.

Mr. Mills is a member of the Riverhead Republican Committee and president of the Riverhead Republican Club. He lives in Wading River.

321 Comment

  • So many words…so little information.

    Mills repeats RNPC’s pertinent question, “What is the point of planning, codes and zoning if every time a business (or for that matter a resident) asks for an exception, they are given a variance or the code is changed?” He proceeds to offer no answer at all.

    Instead, we’re led to believe that these laws & rules can be ignored…simply because Mills personally believes the developers’ plans are “lovely.” Somehow, there’s no discussion of the impact of increasing density & traffic over levels the experts advised & voters accepted; these strike me as legitimate concerns.

    The whole concept of doing town-wide studies, making recommendations that are open for public debate & then codifying the results, is to allow the town to determine the course of its development objectively, WITHOUT getting into debates—whether aesthetic or other—about individual projects. And certainly to determine that course without being swayed by individual subjective views…whether those of Mr. Mills, or anyone else.

    Jedediah Hawkins Inn—which I acknowledge as offering “lovely” meals—got permission to operate as an inn by agreeing to certain parameters. Now, the Inn wants to change those rules so they can be more profitable. How, exactly, does the fact that some residents oppose the change translate into “dragging this businessman through the mud…for some obscure purpose?”

    These decisions should not hinge on Mills’ idea of what constitutes “lovely,” nor on mine. That’s why we have rules.

  • Rules can be and should be changed in these 2 instances. Here we have 2 local successful businessmen who pay their full share of taxes. They are trying to add to their profits and have every right to do so. What they are trying to do fits into the surrounding area and will even enhance it. Let them build on their property they do own it after all.

  • I pay my “full share of taxes,” & plan to turn my garage into a public stable; the income will help offset my property tax bill. I’ll also put a tent in my yard for weddings, to add to my profits. That’s OK, isn’t it? After all, I’m a property owner & therefore “have every right to do so.”

    That simple phrase, “have every right to do so,” appears completely unjustified. If you’re an attorney & this is your interpretation of the law, I’ll pay attention; if you’re simply a concerned citizen, your remark carries no weight.

    Zoning decisions are not popularity contests. Whether you or I like a particular design is moot. You might think a particular plan fits, & will enhance, the area; I might disagree. Or—the reverse might be true. The point is that individual opinions don’t matter. Collective opinions, expressed in the form of laws & rules, are what matter. And if you & Mr. Mills think our zoning laws are poorly written & unreasonably constrain development, by all means change them…but you’ll first need to get elected.

    “You have every right to do as you please!” should make an interesting platform.

  • Mr. Barra’s proposal, if the only one on the table for this small hamlet area, might have merit. However, what Mr. Mills failed to understand or appreciate is that RNPC’s position is that with 4 large projects all within close proximity to each other are in the works for this small hamlet area, a GEIS is not unwarranted or too much to ask. The Town has the legal authority as well as responsibility to act in the best interest of all its residents, and not just consider the “potential” jobs and taxes that are promised … just look at Tanger- tax grievances all sustained, and jobs are all part-time at minimum wage or a wee bit more- how does that help families and workers in our Town sustain themselves??? With regard to Jedediah Hawkins- more rooms at the Inn will not necessarily translate into a successful business venture. One of the prior writers also wrote about the restrictions placed on the site’s development from the very outset – we need to have respect for such decisions. And further Mr. Luce did meet with the local civic and the head of our Town Preservation Commission to arrive at consensus and a win-win for everyone. The community went away believing that such consensus had been achieved, only to find ourselves once more aligned by the site’s mouth piece and self-proclaimed expeditor Pam Hunt [rememeber she is paid by the hour so the more noise and senseless issues she raises only results in the ca-ching, ca-ching in her pocket book]. Mr. Luce should stick to his plan as presented to the community- run the restaurant and sponsor “boutique ” weddings.

    Finally, Mr. Mills and others should not be bashing civic associations- we are the mirror, the conscience, in our Town, asking the questions and offering solutions that keeps this Town and any Town on a course that benefits all, not just those with big bank accounts.

  • No what you are are a bunch of tree hugging idiots who have not lived here all your lives and open your mouths just to rock the boat! I have a great idea crawl back under the rock you came out from under and leave the life long taxpaying residents alone!

  • hhhhhmmmmmm…….name calling when faced with an opposing point of view. now that’s intelligent and adult-like ! ALL property owners pay taxes, including the surrounding homeowners and neighbors who have a right to enjoy THEIR property as they see fit. Additionally, ALL property owners, must use their property in accordance with town rules and regulations without interfering with their neighbors rights.

  • Civic Associations are great if they actually represent the majority of the people it intends to serve. In the case of Wading River and the Save Wading River campaign, they simply do not represent the majority. Rather, they represent a very small number.

    When was the last time anyone went to a Town Board meeting with something other than a complaint? Hardly ever. These people show up every single week and complain about issues that have no bearing on their neighborhood. Then they have the gall to say publicly that they represent their entire neighborhood.

    Mendez lives in Wading River. What is she doing at Jedediah Hawkins? If the neighborhood surrounding Hawkins had a problem, why aren’t they speaking up?

    The propaganda sent around with the Save Wading River campaign is full of lies and deceit. For instance, the Great Rock expansion in reality is 6000 sq ft. The literature they mailed out says 7600. Kenny Barra’s development is termed a “strip mall.” Have you been to East Winds? Do you really think Barra wants a strip mall next to his wedding factory? Cmon people, wake up.

    What we need are people to show up to the meetings and voice opinions. In life the old saying “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” is very real. If we sit back and do nothing, then it will appear that these people do in fact represent the majority.

    Please become active and help these businesses succeed with their developments. I would hate to think what are taxes will be like in a few years without them.

  • Where was the name calling Ken? Did I miss something? Instead of constantly complaining about businesses that want to do better for themselves and the community, how about you and your civic friends come up with a solution to the economic crisis facing the town.

    If no business is allowed to develop in our beloved Wading River, where will they? Where will the tax base grow from? How will the schools deal with the overcrowding that is surely on the way? Who will end up paying the bill? YOU WILL.

    It’s a great thing to be able to voice your opinion, it’s what makes America great. But instead of coming on here or being printed in the Times Review every week with complaints, offer some solutions. Let’s use all the energy of showing up to every single board meeting and work session and come up with some ideas.

    Or is it simply easier to be negative and complain? Guess so

  • John,

    The comments that included name-calling had been removed (and rightly so as they served no purpose) prior to your latest submission. After re-reading my comments I don’t see that I complained about any business wanting to do better. What I wrote was that (in summation) I want all zoning laws to be enforced and all surrounding neighbors’ property rights to be protected as well. Economics, be it another’s individual issue or a governmental concern, should not dictate one’s enjoyment of their home.

  • SOOO THEN LETS HAVE ANOTHER 58 LIKE HERE IN RIVERHEAD..TRAFFIC LIGHT AFTER TRAFFIC LIGHT.
    REMEMBER SEAN WALTER SAID HE LIKES DRIVING DOWN 58 IT LOOKS CLEAN AND CRISPY.
    SO I GUESS WADING RIVER IS DIRTY AND SOGGY…..
    YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP..WHO IS WRITING THE BOOK?

  • I couldn’t agree more John. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Mr. Barra’s proposal. I hope he gets to build. The more important thing that people should be complaining about is all the tax abatement’s that are being given out to all of these businesses that stand to make multi-million dollars in profits per year. This is the single most outrageous problem that we have. How do you allow any business to profit millions of dollars and not pay their full share of taxes when the town is in the red?

  • Jedediah Hawkins Inn has RLC zoning which allows for many different businesses that all of you with Residential zoning cannot have. In return Jedediah Hawkins Inn enjoys a much higher tax rate, currently around $1000 per week. A Country Inn designation is an allowed RLC use under Town Code as provided by 108-188, and the permit for that use was granted to Jedediah Hawkins Inn on May 15, 2006. According to the existing code at this time, a Country Inn may have up to 20 rooms. The Inn has 6 and is requesting 8 more. The Inn currently has adequate parking and property according to code for the additional rooms. Incidentally, as to name-calling, I believe that jackieboy should acquire a little more information before stating that he is aligning himself with a mouthpiece, and indulging in groundless speculating about my financing.

  • “I am sorry if we the people in the RNPC seem difficult to understand.All we want is to keep some semblance of a normal life . Which will end if some or all of these proposals go through, between the traffic, The added cost for roads/lights etc. Weekends are impossible now. And call it what you like, the fact that these shops will be in a circle instead of a straight line, it’s a strip mall!!! A Tanger want-to-be . If there are ” several parties already interested in renting these prospective suites “, why don’t they rent the shops that are already in the area and empty?!. And if all the proposals go through, that will mean anywhere from 50-90 stores! How many “mom-and-pop-type shops and not large, chain-type establishments” do we need?! And I live right smack dab in the middle of this “the architectural designs used to build this village”.The “advantageous” is NOT for the community.. It is for a few developers And their Friends. There are So Many Dis-Advantages to these proposals! But you really don’t care what your neighbors think, and many are not happy about this. All you want to see is that ” a total stranger” get’s what THEY wants. Well so be it.. We will not go quietly into the night… We will fight you every step of the way!!!