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To study, or not to study? Main Road analysis is up in the air

03/23/2016 6:00 AM |

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Following recent concerns raised by Aquebogue and Jamesport residents about new commercial development proposed for Main Road, it appears the town’s effort to conduct a corridor study to evaluate future development in the area is unwelcome.

During the Riverhead Town Board’s work session last Thursday, plan to spend $43,000 on the study was not supported by Jamesport and Aquebogue residents at the meeting because they don’t believe the study will address their concerns. Specifically, they believe that only a handful of properties need to be studied, not the whole stretch of Route 25.

The corridor study would re-examine zoning in commercial sections of Aquebogue and Jamesport and could possibly recommend changes. A similar analysis done several years ago in Wading River ultimately eliminated the potential for over 140,000 square feet of new retail development in that area. However, two Wading River property owners whose land was rezoned after the study are currently in court with the town, battling the zone change.

Many Aquebogue and Jamesport residents have attended numerous meetings at Town Hall in recent months to oppose specific development proposals, including a 7-Eleven at Vinland Commons in Aquebogue and a nearly 28,380-square-foot addition to the Jamesport Center.

But during Thursday’s work session, when Supervisor Sean Walter asked the audience who was in favor of a corridor study, only one person raised a hand.

A handful of people raised their hands to oppose the corridor study and a few indicated they were undecided.

“We don’t see that having this study is going to benefit us in Aquebogue at all,” resident Joan Zaniskey said. “It’s fine the way it is.”

She added that she believes the town’s attorneys made “serious mistakes” in their defense of the lawsuit Vinland Commons filed against Riverhead and believes the 7-Eleven “is coming anyway.”

In response to Ms. Zaniskey’s comments, Mr. Walter said, “If we do nothing, as you’re suggesting, and we lose all the legal appeals, 7-Eleven is coming.”

The supervisor said he believes it’s best to update the town’s master plan — which was created in 2003 — by completing individual studies of each hamlet rather than studying the entire town at once.

Angela DeVito, president of the Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association, who ran against Mr. Walter for supervisor in 2013, disagreed.

“The incremental approach doesn’t give us a comprehensive overview,” she said. “It doesn’t meet the intent of what a comprehensive plan review is about.”

Larry Simms, a co-founder of Save Main Road — “an organization committed to preserving the largely rural atmosphere of Jamesport, South Jamesport, and Aquebogue,” according to its website — said he believes the town should concentrate on the current commercial development proposals. Specifically, he pointed to the former Froehlich farm property across from the Elbow Room in Jamesport (also known as Sharper’s Hill) as well as the Jamesport Center expansion.

“There’s a zoning anomaly that affects five parcels in the hamlet center and Sharper’s Hill is one of them and it’s a big anomaly,” Mr. Simms said.

The “anomaly” is that the boundaries of those five lots were “radically redrawn” in the 1980s, according to Mr. Simms. That, he said, ended up allowing roughly double the amount of development permitted on other properties in the same zoning category along Main Road in Jamesport.

“What we have said is that rights are not vested on this property,” Mr. Simms said. “Nothing is built there. The time to fix the anomaly is now and we don’t think a [corridor] study is necessary.”

The supervisor responded: “You can’t correct it without a comprehensive study.”

Otherwise, Mr. Walter explained, it would be illegal spot zoning.

“I disagree completely,” Mr. Simms said, adding that he researched the issue.

Mr. Walter said it won’t be upheld in a legal challenge without a comprehensive plan. The supervisor said the zoning on properties with a pending application only becomes “vested” when the project is approved, and before that, the zoning can be changed. After that, the zoning cannot be changed, he added.

The town also could adopted a moratorium that stops the projects while the zoning is being studied, although that decision has not been made yet.

Frank Fish from BJF Planning, the firm that would conduct the corridor study, also addressed the Town Board last Thursday and said that under state law, zoning can’t be changed without a comprehensive plan to support the change.

BFJ Planning also conducted the Wading River Route 25A corridor study for the town three years ago.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said she believes the existing zoning is doing its job in terms of preventing overdevelopment, and that it’s just the “commercial nodes” that need to be looked at.

She has suggested that a corridor study could weaken zoning along Main Road in Aquebogue and Jamesport and allow more commercial development.

Mr. Walter said that’s not his intention in proposing the study.

“We’re not just proposing this because of four or five projects,” Mr. Walter said. “During the election, everyone was saying, ‘Update the master plan.’”

Now that he’s proposing to do just that, the supervisor said, the civic associations don’t seem to want it.

“It’s not my intention to stop the projects — it’s to keep the corridor looking the way it looks now,” Mr. Walter said. “But there’s no other way to do this” without updating the master plan.

The Town Board now must decide if it wants to move forward with the study.

Mr. Fish projected that the new study could begin in April and be completed by October, but Mr. Walter said that — even if the Town Board approves the study — it probably wouldn’t start that early.

The supervisor said if the town doesn’t undertake a corridor study of zoning in Aquebogue and Jamesport, he will instead propose a study of zoning along Route 58.

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