The town-sanctioned plan to revitalize Riverside will help increase tax revenues and improve the quality of life for residents living in the hamlet, according to the Southampton Town Democratic candidates for Town Board. READ
When I began reporting on Suffolk County politics back in February 2006, the Democratic party here was on the rise.
In Brookhaven Town, where I was assigned at the time, Democrats were one month into their first majority in more than 25 years. The party controlled the Legislature, the 1st District Assemblyman was a Democrat and so was our local congressman. Suffolk also had just as many Democratic town supervisors as Republicans in office and the county executive was a Democrat. (more…)
A week after the Democratic candidates for Riverhead Town Board held a press conference criticizing the incumbent Republican board members on downtown issues, they held a press conference criticizing the Republicans over Route 58 issues.
Democrats Angela DeVito, Millie Thomas and Bill Bianchi called development on Route 58 “an economic, environmental and quality-of-life disaster,” and said the road should be renamed Sean Walter Way, after the incumbent supervisor, who is being challenged by Ms. DeVito.
The press conference was held outside Millbrook Community, a manufactured home park off Mill Road that abuts the Shops at Riverhead development, which will have a Costco Wholesale as its anchor store. The Shops at Riverhead developers were allowed by the town to clear-cut 41 acres right up to the property lines of the neighboring Millbook and Foxwood Village communities.
“Riverhead is the poorest town on the East End, with the highest debt and the taxes that just keep going up year after year,” Ms. DeVito said. “With this amount of commercial development, you’d think there would be a sufficient tax base to prevent the huge tax hike Walter now threatens. Mismanagement has become Walter’s ‘way of doing business.”
“Didn’t they already have this press conference?” Mr. Walter later responded in an interview, noting the Democratic candidates protested the Shops at Riverhead development just three weeks ago, joining neighoring residents for a rally.
Mr. Walter pointed out that just last week the Town Board adopted a code amendment that will fix the problems at The Shops at Riverhead by requiring a 50-foot natural buffer be planted between the development and neighboring homes. And, he said, the town’s budget problems were caused by the previous Democratic administration, during which a landfill reclamation project failed. The town is still paying more than $4 million per year in debt service from that project.
The Shops at Riverhead site plan, which called for the clear cutting of all vegetation, was approved by the town Planning Board last year, but the actual clearing permit was issued by the Town Board.
“I think the majority of the residents are going to be happy with the size and the scope of the berm,” Mr. Walter said. “The issue is over.”
In addition to Mr. Walter, the Republicans are running incumbents Jodi Giglio and John Dunleavy for council.
Mr. Walter said “there’s obviously things that happened that the town has had to correct,” concerning the clear cutting. “We saw the problem, we corrected the problem, and now it’s time to move forward. It appears to me that Ms. DeVito really has nothing to say, and now she just keeps saying the same thing over and over.”
Ms. DeVito said she believes there’s “clear evidence that Riverhead residents are fed up with Sean Walter and his cronies. Last year he lost his bid for election to the Suffolk County Legislature [to Al Krupski] by a two-to-one margin.
“He didn’t even win his home district of Wading River.”
Democrats running for Riverhead Town Board seats say the incumbent Republicans don’t deserve credit for revitalizing downtown Riverhead, something Supervisor Sean Walter has frequently touted in his previous – and current – bid for re-election.
“The Sean Walter administration has made scant progress in efforts to improve downtown Riverhead,” Democratic supervisor candidate Angela DeVito said at a press conference Tuesday outside the former site of the Red Collection, which went out of business a couple of weeks ago. “What little progress has been made should be credited to town business leaders and not town government.”
Ms. DeVito was joined at the press conference by running mate Bill Bianchi, who is seeking a seat on the Town Board, and several supporters.
In a statement handed out at the event, Ms. DeVito said that “the opening of The Riverhead Project, reopening of the Suffolk Theater and the promotional activities of the Business Improvement District are the work of entrepreneurial business leaders and not Sean Walter or the lackluster Town Board.”
Mr. Walter saw it differently.
“If that’s what they want to campaign on, I welcome it,” he said in an interview. “Business owners are very happy with the help they got from my office to move things forward.”
He suggested talking to business owners such as Bob Castaldi of the Suffolk Theater, John Mantzopoulos of Athens Grill and Dennis McDermott of The Riverhead Project. All three have opened – or, in Mr. Mantzopolous’ case are reopening – since 2010, when Mr. Walter stepped into Town Hall.
“That’s nonsense,” Mr. Castaldi said of the Democrat’s claims. “When Cardinale was here, we went nowhere. When Walter came in, it was like somebody lifted a wet blanket off the town. There’s no question about it in my mind. When Cardinale was here we spun our wheels for three years.”
Former Democratic Supervisor Phil Cardinale had attempted to take back the Suffolk Theater through a reverter clause in the sales contract between the town and Mr. Castaldi. Mr. Castaldi then sued, the issue was tied up in court for several years and the restoration stalled.
Mr. Mantzopoulos, whose restaurant was badly damaged in a fire in July, said that a Town Board resolution to waive building fees for Athens Grill and the Rendezvous, which had a fire the same week, was approved by the Town Board — but not unanimously, as Councilwoman Jodi Giglio and Councilman Jim Wooten did not support the measure.
“There was a little opposition from two people, so I don’t know if you can put them all in the same box,” Mr. Mantzopoulos said in an interview Tuesday. “But overall, my personal experience is that the town government has been good to me. If there are state grants that I’m eligible for, they’ll notify me. I can’t really complain about Town Hall in the last four years.”
Mr. Mantzopoulos said he’s known Ms. DeVito for nine years and Mr. Walter for four.
“At the end of the day, they’re both good people and I wish them both luck,” he said.
Ms. DeVito said at the press conference that the Town Board should concentrate on things such as public safety and the condition of downtown sidewalks and businesses will come. She said the town still has police officers stationed outside the Suffolk Theater after shows and said town zoning allows areas such as Route 58 to kill downtown businesses.
“We need someone who is going to clean up Second and Third streets, and work with Southampton Town to clean up Riverside,” she said.
Mr. Bianchi said the revitalization of downtown “has a long way to go.”