Over the past several months, as most Wading River residents are aware, a series of letters has arrived in our mailboxes on bold letterhead entitled “Save Wading River,” all signed by Dominique Mendez. The wording and tone of these letters contains phrases such as “… our town officials promised us nothing significant in the way of action … Not even a commitment to obey the law on the review of all this proposed mega-development.” So, naturally I became alarmed as the last thing I envisioned for my new hometown was to be another Route 58, filled with more drug stores, chain restaurants, fast food joints and outlet malls. In the interest of developing an informed opinion, however, I decided to investigate this issue further and became more acquainted with what plans, exactly, these commercial developer “culprits” had in mind, and I must say this turned out to be a fascinating experience.
Kenney Barra, the owner and proprietor of The Inn and Spa at East Wind, was kind enough to give me, a total stranger, 90 minutes of his time to further explain his development plans along the route 25A corridor. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Mr. Barra intends to build a lovely village, almost akin to a Milleridge Village, with little shops and restaurants in the shape of a small town square, between what is now The Village Beverage and the East Wind reception hall. I was also impressed to learn that Mr. Barra also had several parties already interested in renting these prospective suites and that these shops were all to be mom-and-pop-type shops and not large, chain-type establishments. Yet, when I attended a “Save Wading River” function at the Shoreham-Wading River Library I was almost appalled at the misrepresentation of the very plans I myself was shown. Slogans like “food court” and “strip mall” were used to represent these lovely plans that would bring jobs and industry to our town. Not to mention the fact that the architectural designs used to build this village seem to fit right in with the rural character that Wading River so proudly boasts — that is to say, cute little houses and water fountains to be polished with immaculate landscaping.
During the course of my investigation, I as well found myself speaking with another entrepreneur, Keith Luce of the Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport. This fine chef and businessman has become a victim of Ms. Mendez’ Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, too. For those who have not yet had the pleasure of having a gourmet meal at Jedidiah Hawkins, you are missing a lovely evening or charming lunch. Fine wine and great food are featured from our local vineyards and quaint farm stands. Yet Mr. Luce, in an attempt to fill his vacant barn with highly expensive suites that cater to Manhattan’s elite class, has been yet another civic association punching bag. According to a May 7, 2011, article entitled “Town code change would allow more rooms at the inn,” which appeared on RiverhealLocal.com, Phil Barbato and Dominique Mendez wrote, “What is the point of planning, codes and zoning if every time a business (or for that matter a resident) asks for an exception, they are given a variance or the code is changed.”
Again I find myself at a crossroads. Mr. Luce has a vacant barn on his property that he is looking to use for additional bedrooms to his lovely inn and, I might add, to aid as an offset to his $50,000 per annum property tax bill. Is it really necessary to drag this businessman, who creates jobs and industry for our town, through the mud for some obscure purpose? What disruption is this to the community?
While the concept of neighborhood civic associations appears noble, it seems as though they may have gone awry or that, I hate to say, there is some other agenda at hand. For while I am a conservative and favor business development and property rights, I also love the rural nature of our community and would certainly hate to see it vanish at the expense of massive commercial development. However, several of the proposals the Town of Riverhead is currently facing seem hardly unreasonable and, in fact, quite advantageous for the community. After all, what’s so bad about spending a romantic evening with your significant other at the Jedediah Hawkins Inn; enjoying fine wine and magnificent food, then waking up the next day to a gourmet breakfast? Perhaps you have a Saturday evening wedding at the glorious Inn and Spa at East Wind and decide to enjoy a fine Sunday lunch at one of the local “mom and pop” restaurants in the village, followed by a romantic afternoon at the vineyards.
We have much to offer to our neighbors “up west” and much to gain in the process. By all means, let’s not let that opportunity pass us by.
Mr. Mills is a member of the Riverhead Republican Committee and president of the Riverhead Republican Club. He lives in Wading River.