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Featured Letter: A narrow focus leads to little change

04/04/2016 12:00 PM |

In a recent letter to the editor, Laura Jens-Smith wrote of a one word change in a specific Riverhead Zone Use District code. Her careful research resulted in the identification of a change from “requirements” to “guidelines.”

It seems she believes that this “huge loophole for crafty attorneys” is responsible for all or the majority of bad land use decisions made during the period 2009 to the present.

As rhetoric in a campaign, this is great stuff. In the real world, there is no substance.

Ms. Jens-Smith has failed to provide even a single example of just how this word change caused, or even facilitated, a bad zoning decision. I have spent over a decade watching and listening to applications before our Zoning Board of Appeals and our Planning Board, and cannot recall even a single such instance.

Most individuals studying our town charter do not automatically conclude that the document needs to be updated simply because each is over 200 years old. Our comprehensive plan for the Town of Riverhead, enacted in 2003 and codified in 2004-2005, doesn’t automatically need updating either.

Concerns, issues and complaints about zone-use district decisions almost always stem from the way the town’s two independent bodies, the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Planning Board, go about their administrative responsibilities and not from how code is written. Both agencies have significant power to interpret, expand and overrule literally anything in our zoning code, so it seems a bit foolish to focus solely on code language.

If we concentrate only on “single word loopholes,” we miss the proverbial boat. This narrow focus may give comfort, but achieves little change. We must address how land use applications are evaluated and decided upon, and what criteria and methods are applied by these two boards in their review of applications.

Ms. Jens-Smith certainly is within her rights to ask the Town Board to focus on single words in Town Code or provisions that govern whether or not business facility entry doors do or do not need to face the street. There is no objection to her voicing her concerns — but it sounds a bit like taking time to re-arrange the chairs on the Titanic’s deck as it is sinking into the dark sea. There are many, many more important and substantive issues that require our attention.

Angela DeVito, South Jamesport

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