Riverhead’s current Town Board inherited a reckless giveaway of what’s left of EPCAL for a fraction of fair value to serial fraudster Daniel Preston and his start-up Luminati. After the property was tied up without a penny of consideration for almost a year, the board then, in effect, allowed Mr. Preston to assign his letter of intent to various permutations of entities allegedly controlled by the Ghermezian family. Mr. Preston’s involvement was sufficiently suspect that Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith and her running mates during last year’s campaign called for an independent investigation into prior dealings between then-Supervisor Sean Walter and Luminati. READ
Less than a week into her term as supervisor, Laura Jens-Smith held a private closed-door meeting with the new partners of Daniel Preston (exposed by the News-Review as a serial fraudster) prior to the “qualified and eligible hearing” on the proposed EPCAL sale. In circumventing the open meeting law in a prearranged secret rendezvous, Ms. Jens-Smith engaged in exactly the same lack of transparency in negotiations with Luminati she campaigned against. READ
To the editor:
Last week, Sean Walter’s signature solutions for our town — a multi-million dollar “bridge” loan and specifics of a reuse plan prepared by his hand-picked, no-bid $600,000 consultant for EPCAL — were overwhelmingly rejected by his fellow Town Board members as well as the public. (more…)
Employees of the Dinosaur Walk set up shop in Riverhead in 2004. (Barbaraellen Koch file photo)
To the editor:
Riverhead’s town boards have been notorious for irresponsible giveaways of town assets at the taxpayers’ expense, including the fire sale of the industrial core at EPCAL to a developer who flipped the property at substantial profit soon after he closed the deal with the town. Unfortunately, the proposed sale of the East Lawn building and the old firehouse seem to follow in the tradition of dumb decisions by the town. (more…)
An artist rendering of the First Baptist Church (far left) and the community center.
To the editor:
The Rev. Charles Coverdale and Shirley Cloverdale have my admiration for their dedication to their church and community. But the Riverhead Town Board must consider the impact on the whole town before it approves zoning that would allow a high-density housing project exempt from property taxes, which will add millions of dollars to our school budgets.
The town’s auditors have warned of a “catastrophic” tax increase and our schools are bursting at the seams — with 200 more kids than expected this year alone. With the cost to educate a student upwards of $16,000 per child in the Riverhead district, just one student per household in the proposed, 132-unit complex would add $2.1 million per year to the school budget.
The claim that there is a compelling need for work force housing is belied by the limited success of another government subsidized project — Summerwind Square, which is still not fully rented.
The Rev. Coverdale has flatly rejected payment of school taxes because his organization is tax-exempt — the effect of which is to have the rest of Riverhead’s already strapped taxpayers subsidize his ambitious project by a likely double-digit increase in property taxes. When added to a catastrophic increase in town taxes, the burden that would be created by a tax-exempt project is far too much for our citizens to bear.
Ron Hariri, Aquebogue
The overwhelming rejection of Phil Cardinale and his team of Democrats makes me wonder if the party even matters any more in our town. The stunning two-to-one margin of victory for the Republicans is even more compelling given the fact that Democrat Steve Bellone won by double digits over his GOP opponent and the “throw the bums out” attitude prevailing in the electorate in general. And while Republican chairman John Galla did a great job of unifying his party (I am delighted to see palpable progress downtown and confess that Sean Walter has matured as a leader, too) the GOP infighting made the other side easy targets.
Sure, the buck has to stop with the Dems’ leadership (or lack thereof) and a lot of the blame in this disaster belongs to Vinny “I don’t write so good” Villella — the one-term supervisor booted out after perhaps the worst decision — other than the millions wasted on the dump during Cardinale’s tenure — in our town’s history: the Burman giveaway at EPCAL. But as I attended the Democrats’ meetings earlier this year in that pizza parlor (I hadn’t had a meeting in such an establishment since fourth grade), I became convinced that perhaps the Democrats didn’t take themselves seriously either. Watching the pizza man qua the party’s vice chair in his apron dishing out calzones during candidate interviews, I wondered if anyone there even understood their responsibility, or whether some of these people’s skills were better suited to picking cheese and tomatoes than viable candidates and leaders.
Rather than use the debacle in this election as a learning experience, the repudiated ex-supervisor told the Riverhead News-Review he had “no idea” why he lost by thousands of votes, and told everyone in a dismal campaign headquarters that “the future of the party” was in the hands of his running mates, who lost by even bigger margins and who this newspaper aptly opined were unable to even articulate any cohesive plan to better our town.
I, for one, am deeply concerned about one-party control of our town’s government. We’ve already seen what may be out of control development and special favors after last election’s GOP landslide. And, frankly, no one has come up with any plan to cut taxes or bring real jobs to Riverhead.
Democracy works best when different factions compromise to achieve a fair result. But unless, and until, the leaders of Riverhead’s Democratic party understand why they have fallen short so often and clean house, we may be destined to one-party Politbureau control of our town and enormous potential for abuse.
Mr. Hariri is a lawyer who lives and works in Riverhead and New York City. He had sought a Democratic nomination to run for a Town Council seat but was not chosen in a vote by the Riverhead Democratic Committee.