Equal Time: Building plans not about personal taste

06/22/2011 12:30 PM |

Two weeks ago, Brian Mills, president of the Riverhead Republican Club and a member of the Riverhead Republican Committee, had some harsh words for the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition and others who believe in the rule of law. I was actually quite surprised to read his  Guest Spot, “In defense of development projects.”

Mr. Mills spoke in glowing terms about Kenney Barra’s proposed “lovely village” in Wading River and the “gourmet” meals and “highly expensive suites that cater to Manhattan’s elite class” at Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport.

Then he said civic opponents were making entrepreneurs a “punching bag” and dragging them through the mud for some obscure purpose.

What didn’t seem to matter to Mr. Mills and what matters a great deal to the people of Riverhead is the rule of law. These proposed developments are among several that simply don’t conform to the zoning that we all depend upon to prevent over-commercialization and to keep our hamlets rural. That zoning guarantees that we can enjoy our homes in peace, maintain our property values and retain the quality-of-life that drew us to Riverhead in the first place. That’s what the RNPC is out to protect.  There’s nothing obscure about our purpose and that’s why a growing number of people like me are joining this group and getting involved.

Though I know some prefer to call it a shopping village, that doesn’t change the fact that Mr. Barra’s mall proposal is for the type of retail that is intended to draw more people into the Wading River hamlet for shopping. Mr. Barra himself admitted his project had a food court and a tourist information center. I don’t think that’s for Wading River residents. Clearly this project is not allowed under Riverhead Town’s zoning and is not appropriate on Route 25A and Sound Avenue in the peaceful hamlet of Wading River. The project is part of 130,000 square feet of new development proposed for a 1.5-mile stretch.

Add to this, the proposed construction of still another catering facility in Wading River at the Great Rock Golf Club in a residential community zoned for two-acre housing. Zoning and covenants make this illegal, too. How would you feel if you purchased a home in this development, in part because of covenants in place that prohibited additional expansion and uses of the property, only to see them ignored?

Furthermore, it is irrelevant what the rooms or food may be like at the Jedediah Hawkins; the continued growth of this business breaks the town’s promise to residents. Riverhead zoning code prohibits the use of the barn on the property of Jedediah Hawkins House in Jamesport for more rooms, for catering, etc. Besides, this country inn has already exceeded the zoning through previous expansions.

Manning the civic booth at Duck Pond Day and walking a recent petition around town, I have personally spoken to many, many people about the proposed commercial development, and what I’ve learned is that most people do not want more retail stores here. They were attracted to the hamlet of Wading River because it was rural, just like it was 33 years ago. And they do not want Wading River to look like Route 58 in Riverhead or 25A in Rocky Point.

Fortunately, local law should prevent inappropriate commercial development in our communities. Unfortunately, local government seems to be looking the other way. So, literally hundreds of citizens, like me, are rising up to see that the town obeys the laws and protects our neighborhoods instead of doing the bidding of builders with big bucks at the expense of the rest of us. Insisting that the laws are enforced is hardly using developers as a punching bag or dragging them through the mud.

For most of us, our homes are the biggest investment we’ll ever make, so forgive us for trying to protect our hamlet and our property rights relative to those who would break the law. And I’m referring to our government, not the property owners and would-be developers. Our problem is less with those who are making these proposals than with a town government that seems poised to let them do something that’s not just inappropriate but illegal.

That’s why we’re using the court, including the court of public opinion, to protect this place we all call home. The rule of law proclaims that no person is above the law, and this includes all of us: residents, landowners, developers and Town Board and Planning Board members.

The issue is not about how lovely or “charming” a political operative thinks something is or about making someone’s business more profitable. It’s about citizens’ rights to enjoy the rural quality of life the town’s master plan envisioned and to enjoy their properties in peace as explicitly provided for under the law.

Dr. Fontana is a psychologist and Wading River resident.

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