Peconic YMCA could be calling it quits: founder

03/01/2013 3:00 PM |

YMCA OF LONG ISLAND RENDERING | The YMCA released this design of a proposed facility when it was eyeing a site in Aquebogue.

After almost 15 years of trying to build a YMCA facility in Riverhead Town or the Riverhead area and getting nowhere, Peconic YMCA co-founder Joe Van de Wetering said his board — which hasn’t made any firm decisions yet — just might end up calling it quits.

This comes after new leadership at the parent group, YMCA of Long Island, rejected a site at the Enterprise Park at Calverton that the town was willing to offer up for free.

Riverhead Town officials approved the measure last year, and had been hoping to get a lease signed by December or January.

“At some point, you’ve got to say, let’s be realistic and throw in the towel,” Mr. Van de Wetering told the News-Review, acknowledging that ending their effort is one of the options being considered.

Mr. Van de Wetering said that while he’s hopeful something can be worked out, “We’ve got some basic conflicts with the [Long Island] YMCA” group, which must be on board and approve of any Y facility built in the region.

Peconic YMCA publicly announced its plans to bring a YMCA to Riverhead in January 2000, at which time it appeared the group had a site near County Road 105 and Route 25 in Aquebogue. But those plans fell through, and the group has since looked at a number of other properties, some connected with unpopular development proposals, some in locations that met opposition from neighbors and some that the Peconic YMCA board ultimately decided against.

The Calverton proposal, while farther west then the group initially wanted, got further along than any of the others and appeared to be on the verge of being constructed after the Town Board agreed to donate 7.3 acres at EPCAL for the Peconic YMCA and had begun negotiating a deal to lease, and eventually give, the property to the YMCA in exchange for certain services spelled out in the agreement.

But in December, YMCA of Long Island’s president and CEO, Anne Brigis, who replaced longtime president and CEO Michael Famiglietti in July, notified the town that the YMCA was considering a location on Riverhead School District property rather than EPCAL.

The town then directed its outside attorneys to stop work on the EPCAL lease agreement.

“I’m very disappointed in the YMCA of Long Island,” Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said this week. “They came out here, and we spent a lot of time and energy negotiating on the Calverton site. Members of their board of directors testified at the public hearing as to what a great site it was.”

Mr. Famiglietti, who retired in July, had supported the EPCAL site.

“I’m very disappointed they are not coming to Calverton and I wish them the best of luck,” Mr. Walter said. “But I have a feeling the decisions that they are making are probably going to affect their backers.

“The Long Island Y may have actually killed a Riverhead YMCA project, and that really is unfortunate for the residents of the East End.”

The supervisor said that as far as he’s concerned, the EPCAL deal is dead and the town will probably try to sell that property, which runs along Route 25.

He said he still doesn’t know what brought about the YMCA’s “180-degree turn” on the EPCAL site.

Mr. Van der Wetering said the YMCA of Long Island is waiting for the Peconic YMCA board to decide what it wants to do, adding that YMCA of Long Island is willing to look at other sites — in addition to the school district property — which would involve starting from scratch.

As for the EPCAL site, YMCA of Long Island officials “have basically told us that it is out of the picture,” he said.

Fritz Trinklien, director of strategic planning for YMCA of Long Island, who had worked with Peconic YMCA and visited the area many times — in Town Hall, with potential donors, civic leaders or the News-Review editorial team — has been taken off the project, Mr. Van der Wetering said.

“They have a new regime that’s in charge and they want to see things done differently,” he said.

The Peconic YMCA board initially wanted a site closer to the Riverhead Zip code and felt EPCAL was too far west. But the seven-acre site was essentially being donated by the town and the Peconic YMCA board ultimately decided to go with it, Mr. Van der Wetering said, adding that it’s frustrating to see that plan fall apart again after so many years.

“We’ve been working on this for a long time,” he said. “It’s always something standing in the way. We just never expected to see this happen.”

Ms. Brigis has not returned calls seeking comment.

A call to Scott Sammis, president of the YMCA of Long Island’s board of directors, also was not returned.

Riverhead School Superintendent Nancy Carney said last week that she has not heard anything new from YMCA of Long Island officials since December.

tgannon@timesreview.com

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