Editorial: When the sky is falling, how will anyone know it?

02/02/2012 5:00 AM |

Choose your battles.

The Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition founders — and its member groups — should heed this advice.

From all projects recently proposed for Wading River to an expanded R&K Precision Autoworks on Sound Avenue in Northville to basically anything that ever happens at the Jamesport Manor Inn or Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport, there’s nothing RNPC founders Dominique Mendez and Phil Barbato don’t seem to oppose. Up to now, when they speak, people seem to listen. But eventually, people will start tuning out. And that will only hurt their admirable efforts as watchdogs and whistle-blowers against sometimes ill-informed or what could be downright corrupt town boards or greedy developers. They even help keep this newspaper informed of ongoing or upcoming matters that deserve coverage — and scrutiny.

But if RNPC is screaming all the time, how are Riverhead residents to know when their way of life is truly threatened?

A few decisions made recently by various town government boards are, to put it simply, not that big a deal. One example would be the Planning Board’s December approval of a breezeway at the Jedediah Hawkins Inn, which would ultimately allow the creation of eight guest rooms in an existing barn on its land. Inn officials have said their operation — which consists of a restaurant and six rooms in the main building — needs the additional guest rooms to stay in business. That’s eight rooms — at most an additional 16 to 20 people staying at the property at any given time. And these wouldn’t be bachelor-party types; we’re talking about well-heeled people, couples mostly, visiting the North Fork and helping our local economy.

Why fight this? The Jedediah Hawkins Inn won’t ever become a massive complex like East Wind; plain and simple. The property’s size just doesn’t allow for it.

Point-by-point, RNPC leaders and its more outspoken members could win a lot of arguments, but that doesn’t mean they should be making all the arguments, most of which are grounded in dire, slippery-slope warnings that small concessions by town boards here and there will ultimately turn the North Fork into North Hempstead. It’s a fair point, and worth making, but in some situations it just sounds like hyperbole — and an excuse to oppose every small concession when it comes to town officials working with the business sector.

There are times when communities need some person or group to grab that megaphone and rally the troops, as the Aquebogue Civic Association did when the Riverhead School District wanted to build a bus barn and YMCA on farmland on the rural/residential Tuthills Lane. The civic won this fight, in part because their neighbors came to realize such a facility could change their quiet farming community forever. But an expanded Precision Autoworks is no YMCA and bus barn; it’s a successful local business making a reasonable request of the town to expand in the same place its customers are accustomed to going.

Thus far, the RNPC has been a positive force in Riverhead. Just look at its recent effort in successfully demanding public workshops as part of the ongoing Route 25A corridor study. Just such a public meeting is now scheduled for this Saturday in Wading River. The group has the allies and means to wield a loud megaphone. But, please, for everyone’s own good, keep it behind glass — for real emergencies.