08/13/12 8:00am
08/13/2012 8:00 AM

AP Photo/Francois Mori | Shelter Island’s Amanda Clark competed in her second Olympics this past week, doing her hometown proud with a ninth place finish in the Women’s 470 sailing competition.

Why do we love the Olympics so much?

I found myself involved in several conversations on this topic the past couple weeks.

Is it our love of country? Our obsession with sports? Maybe it’s just a great inexpensive way to fill our nights in the dead of summer, when most of our usual programming is on hiatus.

No matter what the reason, Americans were watching the Olympics more than ever before this year, even if many viewers complained that the tape delay in a new social media world ruined much of the surprise.

I watched the Olympics just about every day this year for all those reasons and one more: the personal connection.

When I first broke into this business as a sportswriter nearly a decade ago, a young sprinter in the Southern California town where I worked was all the rage.

Just a senior in high school, some folks were saying she could be the best in the world one day. This weekend, she proved she is.

I turned on my television just in time Saturday night to see a now 26-year-old Allyson Felix win her third gold medal of the 2012 games after failing to capture that precious medal in her previous two Olympic bids.

I got goosebumps as I heard commentator Lewis Johnson announce to the world that Allyson ran her leg of the mile relay in 48.1 seconds.

It wasn’t the only time my skin tingled this Olympics.

Jamel Herring was still in middle school when I graduated high school in 1997, but it still gave me great pleasure to watch a fellow Longwood High grad slug it out in his first Olympic boxing match July 31. Even in a 19-9 defeat to Daniyar Yeleussinov of Kazakhstan in his only match, the Coram native did his hometown proud.

The same can also be said for Shelter Island’s Amanda Clark. She proved once again that you don’t need to wear a medal around your neck for your friends and neighbors to celebrate your Olympic achievements. After finishing 12th in Beijing four years ago, Clark improved her standing in what will be her final Olympics, when she finished ninth in the Women’s 470 sailing competition.

There’s no doubt she’ll receive the hero’s welcome she deserves when she returns to the Island. Of all the young sailors to take an opti out on local waters, she’s the one who went as far as the sport allows, sailing the world and representing her country.

She proved to us once again that anything is possible, so long as you set your sights on getting it done.

Maybe that’s what makes the Olympics so special: The feeling that one of us can do all that.

Here’s to hoping we can carry on with the Olympic spirit long after these London games have passed.

Every one of us is longing to accomplish something. Now seems like as good a time as any to say goodbye to the tape delay.

Grant Parpan is the executive editor for Times/Review Newsgroup, publishers of the Riverhead News-Review.

07/31/12 8:00pm
07/31/2012 8:00 PM

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | The NOFO Rock & Folk Fest at Peconic Bay Winery was one attempt to bring live music to the North Fork.

At the risk of stirring up some of those old “Troy has South Fork envy” complaints that arose many years ago when I compared downtown Greenport unfavorably to downtown Sag Harbor, this week I wish to discuss the distinct differences between Long Island’s two forks when it comes to presenting live music.

At its most elemental level, it comes down to this: How come the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center is so vital but Riverhead’s Suffolk Theatre remains stuck in neutral several decades after it was first proposed as a performing arts center?

Or why does East Hampton’s Stephen Talkhouse nightclub consistently attract nationally acclaimed performers while North Fork venues present mostly local talent.

Call me negative, but when I think of live music here I think mostly of what might have been. Like the several hundred hearty souls who attended the East End Arts Council’s Delbert McClinton concert at the Talmage farm on Sound Avenue in Baiting Hollow.

Or the disappointing turnouts (to me, at least) at the first two NOFO Music Festivals at Peconic Bay Winery in Cutchogue — although festival organizer Josh Horton has a more upbeat interpretation of that experience, as expressed in his comments below. Or the suspension for one year of the Riverhead Blues Festival, followed by a 2012 resumption that left the sponsor, Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, thousands of dollars in the red.

There have been some limited successes, of course. Like the short-lived rock and roll shows promoter Preston Powell once brought to the movie theater in Greenport. Or the generally low-key musical performances that have become standard at North Fork vineyards. (Said one wag I surveyed on this question: “It’s just that those bands all work for less than $200.”)

Or the live music offerings of The Arts in Southold Town — although even that volunteer-based organization was forced to disband in part because of the rigors of presenting.

Also on the plus side of the ledger, says East End Arts executive director Pat Snyder, is “the success of Winterfest Jazz on the Vine, which drew an estimated 7,500 people to the North Fork in the dead of winter. Even though vineyards were not built for performance,” she continues, “we make the best of it (along with a really good glass of wine) and enjoy world-class music. Last winter we had at least six Grammy-winning or -nominated musicians. The audience came from well beyond the Suffolk County borders. I believe it’s a matter of knowing who we are as an area and leveraging those qualities.”

What it comes down to — most of the people I’ve spoken to seem to agree — is geography and demographics.

Geographically speaking, Westhampton is much more accessible to the hundreds of thousands of potential customers who live in Brookhaven and Southampton towns. What’s more, as another friend points out, somewhat defensively, “While North Forkers will readily go to the South Side for stuff, those people often feel like they’re taking their lives in their own hands to come north.”

Demographically speaking, there’s significantly more wealth and a younger audience on the South Fork. The kind of wealth, in the form of corporate sponsorships and individual donations, that can help underwrite operating losses at the performing arts center in Westhampton.

And the kind of audience that most likely will sell out upcoming shows for such big name acts as Rufus Wainwright, Joe Walsh, Pat Metheny and k.d. lang. And with ticket prices ranging from just under $100 to just under $150!

Price resistance is definitely a factor here on the North Fork. One-day passes to the NOFO Fest approached $50, and even at that comparatively low level there appeared to be resistance. That’s one of the reasons why NOFO will be reconstituted this summer as a concert series instead of a multiple-day festival.

Still, organizer Josh Horton chooses to place a more upbeat spin on the change of plans, saying it’s “not grounded in the difficulty of producing live music initiatives.” Nor was he discouraged by the response to the first two festivals.

Instead, he says, “There’s a tremendous opportunity and demand for quality live music. That’s what we experienced with the first two NOFO festivals in 2010 and ’11. But this year, we’re taking a slightly different approach. Instead of being all things to all people over the course of two days,” he said, NOFO will become a concert series that presents national acts in a “more intimate setting.” And at a significantly reduced price.

Case in point: the just-announced tribute to Levon Helm, the recently departed founding member of The Band, scheduled for 2 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 19, on the main lawn at Peconic Bay Winery. It will feature Helm’s daughter, Amy Helm, and the Dirt Farmer Band, which backed up Levon Helm on two award-winning albums. And tickets will be priced at just $20 in advance, $25 at the gate.

So instead of needing to sell 1,000 tickets, as they did with the larger festival, Josh said, they’ll need to sell 200 to 300.

“We want to make sure the focus is on the music,” he said, noting how the “time and focus spent on vendors and additional activities became a large part of the festival and diminished the focus on the music.”

So, North Fork music fans, it’s time to put your money where your mouth is. Let’s start small, with the purchase of a ticket or two for the Levon Helm show. And if that works out, we can start to think bigger, say the purchase and remodeling of the old Greenport Auditorium into a live contemporary music venue that makes the ghost of Stephen Talkhouse wish his Native American tribe had relocated to the North Fork.

tgustavson@timesreview.com

07/07/12 7:00am
07/07/2012 7:00 AM

It’s a long road up to Maine, even after taking the ferry.

The shortest route still runs through Connecticut, Massachusetts, a sliver of New Hampshire and finally across the cantilevered bridge spanning the mighty Piscataqua into the Pine Tree State. And it’s another two and half hours to Boothbay Harbor, a small, friendly tourist village hard by the shores of, well, Boothbay Harbor.

At the earliest opportunity after arriving, day or night, me and the Mrs. make a point of walking out onto the footbridge to take in the sights, familiar yet different, of lobster boats riding at anchor, folk sipping drinks on restaurant decks and, to the south, the pines on the island that marks the entrance to the Gulf of Maine.

I know, I know; we have boats at anchor and waterfront restaurants aplenty hereabouts, but there’s just something about that place. Should the folk from Publishers Clearing House rap on our front door with toothy grins bearing an oversized check, one of the first calls we’d make would be to a real estate agent up there.

The second call would be to a Lamborghini dealer, but let’s keep that between us, OK?

And so it was that while I was driving down to Legends in New Suffolk on a recent weekend evening to pick up dinner for the Mrs. — no, I didn’t stay. Picked up, paid and left. No, really — it dawned upon me that many, many folk must get that Boothbay feeling when coming out here.

I know. Duh! Hey, genius, why do you think so many pay so much for their own piece of North Fork paradise? That I had to think about it is evidence of how meself — and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here — has come to take this place for granted.

So the next time I motored down that road more traveled, I tried to look at it with a visitor’s eyes. Well, a visitor in a good mood. Not one who thinks any stretch of road longer than 150 feet is an invitation to attempt a new land speed record.

Hey look, there’s a small-town firehouse and just beyond a stretch of very pretty houses. Will you look how the road swings through verdant fields and fruitful orchards? That little red schoolhouse is right out of a storybook and if you grabbed a photo of the old weathered barn and the small patch of soil where folk tend to their own row of vegetables it would have to be sepia-toned. And how beautiful a sight is it to see a fleet of sailboats leaving Cutchogue Harbor under the golden sun of a summer evening for the round Robins Island regatta?

Honey, let’s sell the Tribeca loft — Hey, if you’re going to dream, dream big, right? — and get a little place out here. We could swim in clean water, breathe clean air and eat fresh vegetables. OK, you’d eat fresh vegetables. Who needs the hustle and hassle of … OK, you get the idea.

But such flights of fancy are fleeting and few. It’s more likely I’m thinking, “Dammit, why is the gas tank on E? I just recently put in 20 bucks.” Or, “Please, God, don’t let me hit a damn deer.” Or, “If my direct deposit isn’t credited toute suite there’ll be a debit card bouncing all over the shorefront and a restaurant that’ll never let me in again.”

Don’t need anyone to tell me that while Maine is wearing its summer best now; the bloom is long off the rose by the time January, February and March roll around. Then there’s mud season, black fly season and the invasion of those damn southern tourists from down Massachusetts way.

No doubt it wouldn’t be long up there before I’d be thinking, “Dammit, why is the oil tank on E? I just put in $1,500.” Or, “Please, God, don’t let me hit a friggin’ moose.” Or, “Honey, if you see a guy in a suit with a briefcase coming up the hill fetch my scatter gun.”

OK, so maybe I’d better think twice about calling the real estate people when my ship comes in. Still, what could it hurt to talk with the Lamborghini folk? But let’s keep that between us, OK?

Tim Kelly is the editor of The Suffolk Times. He can be reached at tkelly@timesreview.com or 631-298-3200, ext. 238.

05/19/12 7:00am
05/19/2012 7:00 AM

One of the big challenges we of a certain age face as we approach our retirement years is to keep looking forward, as opposed to behind.

There is a tendency, at least in this camp, to dwell on the past and the small annoyances that accompany old age — like aches and pains, cuts in Social Security and receding hairlines. It’s seems easier for some of us old timers to focus on JFK and Woodstock than on civilian space travel or the Next Big Thing after Facebook.

Thus it is imperative, I think, to force ourselves to set personal goals and/or follow our unrealized dreams, no matter how impractical.

Some of my personal goal-dreams extend well beyond impractical to the neighborhood of insane — like returning to my former college football playing weight or hiking the full length of the 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail. Others, however, are more doable — like learning a foreign language, visiting Machu Picchu or building a cabin in the woods.

It is the latter endeavor that is the subject of this week’s column.

Since my late teens, when I had the good fortune to regularly visit a college friend’s family cabin well off the grid in Jackson, N.H., I have dreamed of building my own cabin in the woods. For many years, I drove my wife and daughters mad looking at remote mountaintop sites between the Carolinas and Canada’s Atlantic provinces, but never did I have the resolve, or the dough, to pull the trigger.

Then, I am pleased to report, our daughter Anna had the good sense to marry a man who owns 90 mountaintop acres about 20 miles southeast of Lake Placid, N.Y. They call it the High Peaks Region, and it’s smack dab in the middle of the six-million-acre Adirondack Park.

In other words, it’s really “the woods.”

So my son-in-law and I made a deal. If he would supply the site at a deep family discount (that is, free), the former Joan Giger Walker and I would assume the cost of building a one-room, 210-square-foot cabin that might serve — when we’re not there or, ahem, “after were gone” — as a guest house or spare bedroom for Anna and William’s expanding family.

And it would be entirely “off the grid,” with no electricity, no water well and no flush toilet. Instead, we would heat and light the place with propane gas, collect rain water in an underground cistern and employ the environmentally acclaimed technology that is the composting toilet. (The end product of which is advertised to be something like dry garden mulch, but I’ll have to get back to you on that.)

There were some bumps in the road in our bid to create our own version of H.D. Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond. Wall Street was uncooperative there for a while, and the original construction estimates came in higher than a fully loaded BMW SUV.

But the market eventually recovered and the builder found ways to trim the budget, in part because I volunteered to assist the construction crew — presumably by fetching lunch and spare rolls of toilet paper — and to personally paint the cabin inside and out when the job was completed. (I am, after all, the grandson and son of professional house painters.)

As this is written, they are less than 24 hours away from pounding the first nail, at least figuratively speaking. The drawings have been completed, the permits have been obtained, the site has been prepared and the materials have been ordered.

Let the games begin.

And if you check back here in a month, I’ll let you know how things are going.

tgustavson@timesreview.com

04/12/12 5:00am
04/12/2012 5:00 AM

Hey, guys, what’s up?

Yeah, good to see you too, expect for Sammy-Boy over there. Weren’t you supposed to come over and check out that leaky bathroom window, oh, when “All in the Family” was still on the air?

What am I doing here? Three words: “American Idol” night.

I will indeed have a beverage, my good man, Captain and Coke, with lime. What? No, I didn’t bring a note from my mom. Yeah, that’s real funny. You’ve been hanging out with these jokers far too long. No, I didn’t give up Shirley Temples for Lent. And by the way, Lent’s over, jerky.

My presidential campaign? Um, yeah, I did indeed launch it in this public house last year. Why have I parked by my … self on this stool? Well, let’s say the groundswell of grass roots support didn’t quite materialize. I take some comfort, though, in knowing I’m still ahead of Newt Gingrich.

Hey, didja hear? Santorum is out. I mean he finally realized it’s over. Right you are, it’s been over long since. In his case I guess it’s like when you really slam your toe into something and it takes a while for your brain to register the pain.

No, I don’t have a fat campaign treasury to move to a numbered Swiss account. What I got wouldn’t fill my truck’s gas tank, although a buddy of mine did offer unlimited access to his snowblower this winter, so that’s something.

That’s it, gents. Your’s truly will be following campaign 2012 on the sidelines, just like you losers. And truth to tell, I’m already bored to tears.

I mean, what’s the hot issue? Everything and nothing.

Obamacare? Those who like the prez think it’s great and those who hate him hate it. The Supreme Court is sooooo going to kill it and everybody in D.C. knows it. What’s the political fallout? Nada. Zilch. A big, fat nuthin’. Those who like the guy will see him as victimized by a conservative court and the other side will congratulate themselves for blocking his signature legislative accomplishment.

You remember I wasn’t a big fan of that bill. But I still think insurance companies are run by evil bas… I mean, guys and whoever voted in Albany to allow Blue Cross to become a for-profit enterprise should be shot at sunrise. Or given Mets season tickets. OK, yes, that second option could be considered cruel and usual punishment.

Anyway, it wouldn’t be the end of the world to dump the thing back on Capitol Hill with the message “This time you better get it right, you sons of … guys.”

And what does Joe Sixpack think? Who knows? I don’t hear people talkin’ about it. They’ve got other fish to fry. Like Sammy-Boy over there, busy avoiding me in his Met’s cap.

Hey, what’s deal with these peanuts? Fresh? Yeah, I don’t think so. Were these left over from George Washington Carver’s experiments? That’s Carver, not Carter, you moron. Although as you may recall Jimmy Carter did grow peanuts. And I bet if I found any of his on the storeroom floor they’d still taste better than these.

Yo, does this establishment have something against Chex-Mix or Goldfish?

Huh? What’s my prediction for this year? Well, aside from Santana, the Mets don’t have a … Oh, the election. You just can’t get away from that, can you?

OK, write this down. Here’s what’s gonna happen, as predicted by your beloved Uncle Tim. Yes, dammit, I know I’m not your real uncle, but just humor me, will ya?

The president is gonna get re-elected. No, no, I’m not out of my flipping mind and, no, I don’t work for al-Qaeda or Fidel Castro.
Sorry, I just calls ’em as I sees ’em. But if the president had been on the ballot two years ago — during the height of the tea party thing, remember? — he’d now be on the faculty of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. I just don’t detect the same level of anti-Obama animosity this time around.

And you gotta admit, Romney hasn’t exactly been Mr. Excitement.

Ah, but you know what else is gonna happen? The GOP will keep the House and gain control of the Senate, which will bring us fully into the time-tested tradition of Washington gridlock. Anyway, what president has ever done anything earth-shattering during a second term?

Forget the red state-blue state map, you heard it here first. What? Uh, yeah, I did pick the Yankees to go all the way last year.
Yes, Sammy, they got their butts kicked in the first round of the playoffs. But, uh, that’s the exception that proves the rule.

But let’s not argue so early into the season. Here, help yourself to the peanuts. They’re really great.

tkelly@timesreview.com

03/15/12 7:00am
03/15/2012 7:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Joan Zaniskey of Aquebogue spoke at the 'Save the Main Road' meeting Saturday.

Surprise of surprises: The good people of Jamesport, South Jamesport and Aquebogue appreciate the benefits of building a YMCA somewhere in Riverhead or Southold towns. They just don’t want it in their own backyard — specifically on 8.8 wooded acres across the Main Road from Vineyard Caterers in Aquebogue.

Just like the people of Aquebogue didn’t want a YMCA on Tuthills Lane. Or the people of Greenport didn’t want a YMCA on Front Street. Or the people of Laurel didn’t want a YMCA in their hamlet, which straddles the border between Riverhead and Southold towns. (I still think former Southold Town supervisor Tom Wickham was on the money when he suggested locating the Y in Laurel, because it would have conveniently drawn members from both towns and Shelter Island.)

My memory is getting a little shaky at this point, but wasn’t there once a suggestion to locate a new YMCA at the former Grumman property in Calverton? I can only assume it was nixed by the deer and endangered salamanders who camped nearby.

There’s a certain pattern at work here, wouldn’t you agree? And if it were a scientific formula, it would read: YMCA + NIMBY = 0.

I used to think there might be a racial component to some of the Y opposition. I had no hard proof for said theory, just a gut feeling that overwhelmingly lily-white hamlets might be doing their NIMBY thing because a Y would draw people of color from both Riverhead and Greenport, the only local communities with significant minority populations.

But my latest theory holds that age discrimination, rather than race discrimination, is a major component of this naysaying.

Methinks there are just too many of us old-timers living hereabouts to embrace a facility that would cater primarily to children and young families. I’m guessing a 40,000-square-foot senior citizens recreational center on the Main Road — across from a catering hall, a few hundred yards from a major vineyard and tasting room, and less than a mile from several of the busiest farm stand operations on the North Fork — would not be drawing this level or intensity of opposition. Sure, additional traffic is always a concern on the Main Road, but the traffic generated by a Y isn’t likely to have a major impact. What are we talking about here, 20 or 25 cars an hour at peak hours on a road that now must handle 10 times that volume in a typical hour?

Sooner or later, the good folks who have been championing a North Fork YMCA for decades (!) are bound to realize their dream, but it won’t come any easier now that we gray panthers are on the prowl.

No doubt you’ve heard of professional athletes who take their celebrity and obscene compensation for granted. You know, the sort of player who brushes past a little kid who’s holding out a baseball to be autographed without so much as a sideways glance.

Now please meet Heath Bell, star closer for the Florida Marlins Major League Baseball team. That is exactly what our 11-year-old grandson did at a recent spring training workout conducted by the Marlins at their facility in Jupiter, Fla.: meet Heath Bell. And how.

Not only did Mr. Bell sign Tyler Olsen’s baseball, but he stopped to chat after Tyler said “please” and “thank you” and wished him well in the upcoming season. Apparently, saying please and thanks is not something most autograph seekers do. In fact, the Big League player then asked Tyler’s opinion as to whether he should sign his name for the dozens of other autograph seekers shoving their pens and papers and baseballs in Mr. Bell’s direction, without uttering so much as a please or thank you. Apparently, Tyler’s good manners and good wishes had put him in the position of deciding who else would or wouldn’t get an autograph.

Tyler is a really good kid, and he took pity on the other autograph seekers, making note that they, too, had been waiting for quite some time for Heath Bell to pass by.

But before he signed his name another time, Mr. Bell did something that Tyler (not to mention Tyler’s grandfather) will remember for the remainder of his days. He invited Tyler and Tyler’s dad over to his car and said something like, “Here, I have something for you.” And what he had was a brand spanking new Heath Bell autographed model baseball mitt, which he presented to Tyler without further fanfare.

Now, a professional baseball player who makes $9 million a year gifting a glove valued at several hundred dollars to an 11-year-old kid may not be that big a deal in most circles, but in the Olsen and Gustavson households it is now the stuff of legend.

The Yankees’ Mariano Rivera still is our favorite closer. But when he retires next year, you can probably guess who our new favorite closer will be.

tgustavson@timesreview.com

03/08/12 5:00am
03/08/2012 5:00 AM

OK, that’s it. My plans for my “golden years” don’t include sunny days on the golf course, facing the salt sea spray while casting for stripers or even rocking on some Mayberry-esque front porch.

No, apparently I’ll be working until I drop, or the guys in white jackets come to cart me away.

The only solace I take is the knowledge that I won’t be alone, and cold comfort, that.

It’s not that I’m poor. Hardly. Got a good job while many thousands don’t, the checks come through direct deposit every two weeks. And I’ve a got a 401(k), while many thousands don’t. Ditto for the Mrs. I try to forget how much of it evaporated like morning fog on a sunny day after the economy went to heck in a hand basket in the fall of ’08.

We own a home, the value of which I’m led to believe is higher than the amount mortgaged. Lord, sure hope there’s no need to verify that anytime soon. Bills get paid on time, well, mostly, so we don’t worry about creditors comin’ to call. The kids are grown, on their own, mostly, have sources of income and health insurance.

So why the panic? I know what you’re going to say. Dude, you’re living the American dream. Do you know how many people would kill for your life? I am fully aware of how fortunate my clan has been while others have suffered — check that, are suffering still — through no fault of their own.

Still, I just can’t shake the feeling that I’m running along the top of a picket fence. One misstep and, well, you get the picture.

When he represented the East End in Congress, Laurel’s George Hochbrueckner frequently voiced concern for senior citizens who, living on Social Security and little else, “are hanging on by their fingernails.” Don’t want to spark an inter-generational conflict, but I can’t help but think at least they’ve got fingernails. Mine have been all but chewed off — yes, a gross exaggeration, but I’m making a point here, dammit — worrying about making ends meet. Not so much next week or next month, but down the line.

I have this recurring vision of sleeping on a cot next to the boiler in one of my kids’ basements. Maybe that’s what happens when you down a can of Spaghetti-O’s just before bed, or so I hear.

Went food shopping earlier this week, and on the list me Mrs. prepared was a container of grated Parmesan cheese.

Certainly not an unusual, exotic or luxury item. Then I saw the prices — more than six flippin’ bucks! For a container of nothing special, non-gourmet, run of the mill cheese.

At such moments it hits you that eventually, inevitably, you become your parents:

“Six bucks-plus for cheese to dump on Spaghetti-O’s? (Um, for those who go for that.) Hey, I’m not looking to buy stock in the company, fer crying out loud. Although at these prices, maybe I should.”

When future economists study the early the 21st century I’m guessing they’ll describe it as “The Gouging Years.” The economy tanked three-plus years ago and now everybody is grabbing and grasping to survive. Energy costs on the rise?

Everything else jumps up with it, including the price of a stinking container of Parmesan cheese. No, I can’t let go. And since no one else will listen to my rantings, you’re stuck. Me Mrs. just raises the volume on “American Idol.” Wise woman.

We’re all asked to make do with less costing more. Understandable and expected? Sure. Unavoidable? Probably. But that’s no way to climb out of the muddy trench.

Especially when a pension is yanked out from under you as your retirement years approach, as is happening to someone I know. Age discrimination lawsuit, anyone?

I know, I know, nothing is gained by refusing to see the glass as anything but half-empty. I’m probably not alone, and that, I bet, is the real problem.

Well, it is quite spring-like outside and daylight-saving time returns this weekend. Perhaps I should continue the Kelly family tradition and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a nice big pan of lasagna.

Ok, dig in, everybody! Ah, that smells great. Can you shoot the garlic bread down this way, please? Hey! Take it easy with the Parmesan, will ya? That stuff doesn’t grow on trees, you know.

Tim Kelly is the editor of The Suffolk Times. He can be reached at tkelly@timesreview.com or 631-298-3200, ext. 238.

03/01/12 7:00am
03/01/2012 7:00 AM

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Frank Fish of BFJ Planning speaks to the audience at last week’s meeting on the effects of rezoning in Wading River.

One of my first assignments as a cub reporter was to cover a presentation on a feasibility study aimed at controlling flooding in Elkton, Md. The study cost the county $300,000, at a time when I was making $22,000. I couldn’t comprehend it. I worked day and night. What was so hard about a study? And what does feasibility mean anyway?

I figured out what it all meant, eventually. Locally elected leaders wanted to make it look as if they were doing something about flooding in Elkton. If you want to know how that effort is going, just Google “Elkton flooding” and watch the YouTube video that pops up.

Spoiler alert: It’s not going so well.

So when the Riverhead Town Board voted last year to spend $42,000 for a planning study in Wading River, I wasn’t too optimistic this was the answer to the prayers of so many people in the hamlet. What it was, really, was a chance for Town Board members to point to something come election time, when that little old lady at the debate asks, “What are you doing about overdevelopment in Wading River?”

“Well, you see, ma’am, we’ve commissioned this study …”

In reality, the study isn’t worth more than the paper it’s written on. Any zoning changes the study calls for likely won’t affect a single one of the five big development projects that have so many people in Wading River so concerned — concerned enough to pack St. John the Baptist Church and Town Hall for two presentations in recent weeks.

The Great Rock clubhouse expansion isn’t on Route 25A, to which the study is confined. The study doesn’t make recommendations for any Route 25A property west of the Wading River-Manor Road intersection, although a large commercial project called Venezia Square is planned for land there.

Developer Kenn Barra’s Knightland property at the Sound Avenue intersection wasn’t included in the study because a civic group has sued over the project’s Planning Board approvals. (Yes, for some reason the firm can’t give an opinion on what would be best suited for this land because a civic group has sued. Sounds like a cop-out to me, like someone somewhere finding a reason not to get too involved with potentially derailing this project.)

So what’s left to study, after the arbitrary reasons to not study too much? There’s the Zoumas property next to CVS, also slated for development, but the town already tried to rezone that land through its master plan. Mr. Zoumas sued to have the original zoning restored. He won. The town isn’t likely to try again to change his zoning.

Across from the Zoumas land are three contiguous pieces of farmland totaling 22 acres. A project called North Shore Country Plaza is planned for one of them and is probably heading to the town Planning Board before the Route 25A study is completed. What happens then if the town tries to change the zoning? Litigation like the kind Mr. Zoumas won.

That leaves just three properties on Route 25A truly subject to the study, maybe 15 acres in all, and on which no development is currently planned. And one of the three parcels is a 1.8-acre triangle of land just west of the Sound Avenue streetlight. I’m not sure there’s much to worry about with that piece.

So, when all is said and done, two developable chunks of farmland in Wading River may be rezoned (and there are likely to be protests over that rezoning as well, as civic leaders have expressed concern that proposed zoning would still permit too much development). And this is going to be done using expert suggestions that are costing Riverhead taxpayers $42,000. The town planners could have re-examined those parcels and proposed those changes in an afternoon.

But then, what to tell that little old lady?

Michael White is the editor of the Rivehead News-Review. He can be reached at mwhite@timesreview.com or (631) 298-3200, ext. 152.