01/16/14 6:00am
01/16/2014 6:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO  |  Vacant land is fast disappearing on Route 58. Irwin Garsten owns the above piece of property, just east of the Hudson Savings Bank building, where he has a site plan application for a shopping center.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Vacant land is fast disappearing on Route 58. Irwin Garsten owns the above piece of property, just east of the Hudson Savings Bank building, where he has a site plan application for a shopping center.

To the editor:

In your story about the dwindling commercial land along Big Box Alley (AKA, Route 58), it seems you neglected the next progression of commercial development. If we understand anything about real estate developers it is that turning land into big bank accounts is a never-ending endeavor, so the real question is, “What will they covet next?”

Can the 40 acres that were Homan’s Farm, on the northwest corner of Route 58 and Northville Turnpike, be preserved, or will that be the next shopping mall? The southeast corner is still undeveloped, though it’s mostly low-lying and swampy.

How far north can they still develop if they take land north of that intersection? Will Sound Avenue fall to the bulldozers? Can we reasonably defend that now well-traveled rural corridor from the lawyers of real estate developers, or not? If the commercializing of Riverhead with all that would never be permitted in Southold or Southampton teaches us anything, it is that nothing in Riverhead is sacred.

Edward Burke, Riverhead

06/22/11 12:30pm
06/22/2011 12:30 PM

Two weeks ago, Brian Mills, president of the Riverhead Republican Club and a member of the Riverhead Republican Committee, had some harsh words for the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition and others who believe in the rule of law. I was actually quite surprised to read his  Guest Spot, “In defense of development projects.”

Mr. Mills spoke in glowing terms about Kenney Barra’s proposed “lovely village” in Wading River and the “gourmet” meals and “highly expensive suites that cater to Manhattan’s elite class” at Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport.

Then he said civic opponents were making entrepreneurs a “punching bag” and dragging them through the mud for some obscure purpose.

What didn’t seem to matter to Mr. Mills and what matters a great deal to the people of Riverhead is the rule of law. These proposed developments are among several that simply don’t conform to the zoning that we all depend upon to prevent over-commercialization and to keep our hamlets rural. That zoning guarantees that we can enjoy our homes in peace, maintain our property values and retain the quality-of-life that drew us to Riverhead in the first place. That’s what the RNPC is out to protect.  There’s nothing obscure about our purpose and that’s why a growing number of people like me are joining this group and getting involved.

Though I know some prefer to call it a shopping village, that doesn’t change the fact that Mr. Barra’s mall proposal is for the type of retail that is intended to draw more people into the Wading River hamlet for shopping. Mr. Barra himself admitted his project had a food court and a tourist information center. I don’t think that’s for Wading River residents. Clearly this project is not allowed under Riverhead Town’s zoning and is not appropriate on Route 25A and Sound Avenue in the peaceful hamlet of Wading River. The project is part of 130,000 square feet of new development proposed for a 1.5-mile stretch.

Add to this, the proposed construction of still another catering facility in Wading River at the Great Rock Golf Club in a residential community zoned for two-acre housing. Zoning and covenants make this illegal, too. How would you feel if you purchased a home in this development, in part because of covenants in place that prohibited additional expansion and uses of the property, only to see them ignored?

Furthermore, it is irrelevant what the rooms or food may be like at the Jedediah Hawkins; the continued growth of this business breaks the town’s promise to residents. Riverhead zoning code prohibits the use of the barn on the property of Jedediah Hawkins House in Jamesport for more rooms, for catering, etc. Besides, this country inn has already exceeded the zoning through previous expansions.

Manning the civic booth at Duck Pond Day and walking a recent petition around town, I have personally spoken to many, many people about the proposed commercial development, and what I’ve learned is that most people do not want more retail stores here. They were attracted to the hamlet of Wading River because it was rural, just like it was 33 years ago. And they do not want Wading River to look like Route 58 in Riverhead or 25A in Rocky Point.

Fortunately, local law should prevent inappropriate commercial development in our communities. Unfortunately, local government seems to be looking the other way. So, literally hundreds of citizens, like me, are rising up to see that the town obeys the laws and protects our neighborhoods instead of doing the bidding of builders with big bucks at the expense of the rest of us. Insisting that the laws are enforced is hardly using developers as a punching bag or dragging them through the mud.

For most of us, our homes are the biggest investment we’ll ever make, so forgive us for trying to protect our hamlet and our property rights relative to those who would break the law. And I’m referring to our government, not the property owners and would-be developers. Our problem is less with those who are making these proposals than with a town government that seems poised to let them do something that’s not just inappropriate but illegal.

That’s why we’re using the court, including the court of public opinion, to protect this place we all call home. The rule of law proclaims that no person is above the law, and this includes all of us: residents, landowners, developers and Town Board and Planning Board members.

The issue is not about how lovely or “charming” a political operative thinks something is or about making someone’s business more profitable. It’s about citizens’ rights to enjoy the rural quality of life the town’s master plan envisioned and to enjoy their properties in peace as explicitly provided for under the law.

Dr. Fontana is a psychologist and Wading River resident.

03/24/11 5:23am
03/24/2011 5:23 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO A field of pumpkins at Lewin's Farm on Route 25a in Wading River in the fall. A group has launched a 'Save Wading RIver' campaign fearing four proposed development projects will forever alter the hamlet's character.

The battle over four development projects in Wading River is heating up.

In the same week county officials announced plans toward a possible purchase of one of the four properties slated for commercial development, a civic group announced a letter writing blitz against further development. And an attorney for that same civic organization issued a legal opinion that Riverhead Town can declare a moratorium on development while it examines its zoning of the area.

The development concerns center around four large commercial projects: the 52,000-square-foot Central Square project from developer John Zoumas on Route 25A next to CVS; the 32,000-square-foot Knightland project from developer Kenn Barra at the intersection of Route 25A and Sound Avenue; the 42,000-square-foot Venezia Square project from Joseph Vento and James Tsunis on Route 25A between McDonald’s and the funeral home; and the 7,200-square-foot expansion of the clubhouse at Great Rock, just north of Sound Avenue.

On Thursday, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter and County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) held a press event to announce a proposal to have Suffolk County consider purchasing Mr. Zoumas’s property through the county’s “hamlet parks” program, which preserves properties located in or near downtown areas for preservation.

The Zoumas property had been under consideration for county acquisition about three years ago, when it was being looked at as a possible location for a new Shoreham Little League field. That effort stalled when an agreement with a non-profit to build ball fields could not be reached, according to Mr. Walter.

“Whether the acquisition happens or not obviously depends on the appraisals,” Mr. Walter said. “But this would be a great acquisition. There’s certain strategic places within the town that we need to acquire and this one makes sense. We don’t want us to look like Brookhaven. We don’t want it to look like [the portion of Route 25A where] you can’t tell where Port Jefferson starts and Shoreham ends.”

Meanwhile, the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, a non-profit group that seeks to link all the civic organizations townwide, announced this week that it would be launching a letter-writing campaign to residents as part of its “Save Wading River” movement.

“The letters ask residents to become informed about the threat to Wading River’s community character, communicate with Town Board members and support RNPC’s legal and legislative strategy,” a press release from RNPC president Dominique Mendez said. “The group wants the Riverhead Town Board to halt the proposed projects until a study of their cumulative impacts on Wading River is completed — something they believe can be done in less than a year.”

“We must hold the Town Board accountable for the health of our community,” Ms. Mendez said in the release. “Over-development will produce empty storefronts such as those in downtown Riverhead. That, in turn, will reduce property values and completely undermine the quality-of-life we all came to Wading River to enjoy.”

The group also has unveiled a new web site, www.savewadingriver.com.

The group’s attorney, Regina Seltzer, also issued a legal opinion that the town can legally declare a moratorium on development along Route 25A in Wading River while it re-studies the area’s zoning.

Ms. Seltzer’s memorandum states: “What is clear from the cases on moratoria is that as long as the municipality acts for a legitimate purpose and does not act in bad faith, a moratorium is an acceptable planning tool.”

Mr. Walter said he already knew the town can declare a moratorium but added, “It’s not enough to just demand a moratorium. You have to come up with a solution. I appreciate Ms. Seltzer’s letter, and I know we can have a moratorium, but we need some proposal in its place.”

Mr. Walter reiterated that “there are some things in the master plan that I vigorously disagree with,” such as the commercial zoning on Route 25A in Wading River.

He said he plans to bring Frank Fish, the consultant who worked on Brookhaven Town’s study of the Route 25A corridor, to the Riverhead Town Board to initiate a new study on possibly updating Wading River’s zoning. Even if the board agrees to do so, it doesn’t necessarily mean a moratorium is necessary, Mr. Walter said.


02/25/11 12:37pm
02/25/2011 12:37 PM
pharmacy and bank proposed for Calverton

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A pharmacy and bank is proposed for this parcel at the intersection of Route 25 and Edwards Avenue in Calverton.

A bank and 24-hour pharmacy could be coming to Edwards Avenue in Calverton — adding to what some say is a developing hamlet center — but only if Riverhead Town’s Zoning Board of Appeals allows the proposals to move forward.

Neither business is permitted on the property under current zoning.

A group called 1998 Peconic LLC, headed by developer Paul Elliott and Jim Miller of Miller Environmental, has proposed putting a 13,852-square-foot pharmacy and a 4,092-square-foot bank on the vacant 3.29-acre lot directly south of the now-closed Village Crossroads restaurant on Edwards Avenue.

Those same applicants built the gas station that sits between the restaurant property and the Riverhead Charter School on Route 25. Mr. Miller’s company is located farther south on Edwards Avenue.

To get such a variance, an applicant must show that none of the permitted uses are viable; that the hardship the applicant faces is unique and not “self-created;” and that the use would not adversely impact the surrounding area.

Chris Tartaglia of High Point Engineering, a representative of the applicant, said during a ZBA hearing on the variance application last Thursday night that the permitted uses — warehouses, lumberyards, agricultural protection — basically fall into two categories that require more land.

Charles Voorhis, a planner also representing the applicants, said the property is unique because it is surrounded by a school, deli, gas station and the shuttered restaurant.

In the past, permitted uses such as a lumberyard and more recently a propane storage facility have been proposed on the property and have met with opposition from the community and from Riverhead Charter School officials, Mr. Voorhis explained to the ZBA board members.

“We’ve pretty much exhausted the list of allowable uses on this district,” Mr. Voorhis said. “The only inquiries that have come forth have been by banks and pharmacies.”

The proposed uses would generate an estimated $73,000 in property taxes, $513,000 in sales tax and would create 50 construction jobs and 40 operational jobs, Mr. Voorhis said.

He said the property owners now pay about $22,000 in taxes, insurance and maintenance fees.

The proposed pharmacy would operate 24 hours per day, seven days per week, while the bank office would be open from 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.

The applicants have not publicly identified specific tenants for the sites.

Peconic LLC is proposing 128 parking spaces, which is more than the 98 required under the current zoning, and to allow the restaurant, should it reopen, to use part of its property for overflow parking.

Richard Israel, who runs the real estate company that owns the restaurant, voiced support for the proposed use variance. He said he is in negotiations with a potential tenant who would reopen the restaurant, which also is zoned industrially.

“We feel that the hamlet of Calverton has been growing ever since the Charter School came there,” Mr. Israel said. “We feel there’s more need to have more services there.”

He added, “I look forward to Calverton becoming a little mini-center. The industrial uses in that general area are kind of absurd. Maybe with changes and some variances, we can bring the neighborhood to where it should be, as a little community center.”
The ZBA adjourned its hearing until March 24.

Mr. Elliott said he will present his plans to the Greater Calverton Civic Association on March 10.


02/24/11 7:01am
02/24/2011 7:01 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Traffic on Route 25A in Wading River

A civic organization is launching a “major campaign” to convince the Riverhead Town Board to declare a moratorium on new commercial development along Route 25A in Wading River until a comprehensive study of the area is launched and completed.

The Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, which seeks to link environmental and civic organizations throughout the town, says it is refusing to give up on its call for such a study, even though the town Planning Board unanimously rejected Supervisor Sean Walter’s call for one in early January.

There are currently four commercial development projects proposed for Wading River, with three of them on Route 25A and the other at the Great Rock Golf Course. The four projects total 130,000 square feet of new development.

The civic coalition claims in a press release sent Wednesday that this amount of development “would destroy the hamlet economically and in terms of quality of life.”

The coalition is calling its campaign “Save Wading River” and says it will include “community education, a review of legal
options and a concerted effort to make the Town Board more accountable to the people.”

“If these projects are all built, Wading River as we know it will be utterly destroyed,” said the group’s president, Dominique Mendez. “The Town Board must declare a ‘time out’ while the impacts on home values, local businesses, traffic and quality-of-life are cumulatively assessed.”

Ms. Mendez said that since the Planning Board is not an elected board, it is less accountable to the people, which is why they are centering their efforts on influencing the Town Board.

Mr. Walter, himself a Wading River resident, has repeatedly said he is opposed to the amount of new development proposed in Wading River, but that he’s not sure what can be done. He has said he’s worried that if a developer challenges a town decision in court and wins, a judge could simply declare a project approved, as others have done in several recent cases in town.


02/09/11 12:17pm
02/09/2011 12:17 PM

A petition signed by more than 420 people calling for a Wading River planning study was presented to the Riverhead Town Board last Wednesday. The petition was accompanied by a letter from environmental and civic groups urging the town to not only to launch such a study but to put all proposed buildings plans on hold until it’s concluded.

The town last declared such a development moratorium in the years leading up to the 2003 adoption of its updated master plan. But in the past few months, several of the master plan’s recommendations have been called into question by residents, environmental groups and even Supervisor Sean Walter.

On Jan. 6, the town Planning Board unanimously rejected Mr. Walter’s proposal for a cumulative study of the impacts of three large development proposals pending for Wading River. But a letter recently sent by Group for the East End, an environmental organization, and two civic organizations claims their own legal research indicates that the Town Board has the jurisdiction to do such a study itself. It was signed by Group for the East End, the Wading River Civic Association and the Riverhead

Neighborhood Preservation Coalition.
This comes as another commercial development application for Route 25A is about to be submitted in Town Hall — and that applicant is not happy about talk of a moratorium.

Joseph Vento of Port Jefferson said he is about to submit a proposal for a 42,000-square-foot development on the south side of Route 25, between McDonald’s and the funeral home. But Mr. Vento, who is working with developer James Tsunis on the project, asked the Town Board last Wednesday not to lump his project in with others in the area, claiming he has owned his land since 1988 and has been repeatedly thwarted in his attempts to develop it by town planning studies, such as the Wading River Hamlet Study in the late 1980s and the master plan update.

In 1989, Mr. Vento’s partners went into bankruptcy, and he bought the land in foreclosure, but he said it cost so much to recoup what he spent to purchase the property that he wasn’t able to resubmit a development proposal for it until the mid-1990s.
In the early 2000s, the town began its master plan update and enacted a moratorium on new development.

“I had a very good option where a Stop and Shop was going to be going there; it was a done deal … then your moratorium for the second time came through, from 2001 to 2003, which basically put a total stop on the property,” Mr. Vento explained.

The new zoning and new Pine Barrens regulations also reduced the amount of building permitted on the land, he said. A proposal to build a Rite Aid on the site also fell through, he added, but now that he’s ready to submit a new site plan and has tenants interested in the site, there’s talk of another study.

“After 23 years, four sets of plans, and now a new one being filed, I think I have a right to use my property,” Mr. Vento told the Town Board.

“Nobody is saying you can’t use your property,” Mr. Walter responded. “But you can understand that when Wading River is receiving applications to develop a number of projects all at once, that a comprehensive traffic study and a limited scope impact statement should be looked at.”

Mr. Walter said the developers should pay for the expansion of the road if it needs to be widened.

Dominique Mendez of Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition urged the board to do something.

“We moved here to get away from that type of sprawl,” she said.

Ms. Mendez presented the board with the signed petition, which states: “I implore the Riverhead Town Board to study these matters and to do all it can to preserve the town of Wading River and its neighborhoods, before it’s too late.”

Ms. Mendez said she collected the 400-plus signatures over one weekend in front of the Wading River King Kullen.

Mr. Walter said his fear about calling for a moratorium is that it could end up in court, where approvals could be granted by a judge with no town input.


01/19/11 8:53am
01/19/2011 8:53 AM

Now that both long anticipated sales of town land at the Enterprise Park at Calverton are dead deals, Riverhead Town Board members are prepared to spend “a few hundred thousand” dollars to hire a consultant to do an updated plan and marketing analysis for the park.

The town has received a proposal from land planning firm Vanasse, Hangen Brustlin Inc. (VHB) to develop a subdivision plan for the town-owned land at EPCAL, recommend new zoning for the property and conduct an environmental study, Supervisor Sean Walter said.

“All the bird data, all the salamander data … all of that is going to be combined into one study,” he said. The state had been requiring a wildlife study of EPCAL in conjunction with a proposed subdivision of the property to prepare it for the now-dead Riverhead Resorts and Rechler Equity Partners purchases, which both fell through last year.

A different firm will be hired to do a market analysis of what types of businesses are seeking sites that might be available at the park, Mr. Walter said.

He said the whole process is expected to take about two years, depending on how well the town can work with the state and county.

“We wasted years with wild proposals here and there,” Councilman George Gabrielsen said. “We want to start over from square one and do it right.”

VHB was involved in a successful reuse plan for a former military base in Devens, Mass., which board members visited last week. EPCAL is also a former military property but, unlike Ft. Devens, it has not become a thriving industrial center. Riverhead officials are hoping to replicate some of that project’s success here. VHB also is involved in a reuse plan for the Shoreham nuclear plant property.

Mr. Walter wouldn’t disclose the cost of VHB’s services, although during the Devens trip, before the proposal was submitted, he estimated that it would be at least $500,000. On Tuesday, he said it would probably be less than that. Representatives from VHB are expected to meet with town officials in executive session Thursday, and the board could call a special meeting to hire the firm this week, Mr. Walter said.

“It may be an investment initially of a few hundred thousand dollars, but I think, eventually, this will be a billion-dollar buildout, so it’s something we have to do,” Mr. Gabrielsen said at last Thursday’s work session, where the proposal was discussed.
Mr. Walter called it “an investment in our future.”

Before the previous land deals fell through, the town had been hoping to sell 755 acres at EPCAL to Riverhead Resorts for $108 million and 300 acres to Rechler Equity Partners for $18 million. Riverhead Resorts was planning to create eight resorts, including one with an indoor ski mountain, while Rechler proposed a high-tech industrial park. The town pulled the plug on

Resorts when it failed to make payments required under the contract. Rechler canceled its deal when the town wouldn’t allow it to include residential and retail components in its plan.

The town needed to subdivide the EPCAL property to break out these parcels before it could legally sell them.

Now, officials are thinking of breaking EPCAL into smaller lots and subdividing the property even before any proposals for development are made.

“In this economy, the smaller lots are certainly more affordable for larger companies to come and invest, rather than the 755-acre tract of land,” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said.

Mr. Walter said the town had never put any money into the EPCAL property. The money it received from the $17 million sale of 500 acres to developer Jan Burman in 2001, and the deposit of about $8 million it received from Riverhead Resorts, should have gone back into the property, he added, but prior administrations used it to offset taxes and to pay off debt on the landfill instead. The town never got any money from Rechler.

Mr. Walter said he envisioned creating lots of 30 to 50 acres and then selling the subdivision map to developers. The town would not build the roads, he said.

“We have to put some money into this property,” Ms. Giglio said. “We got it for nothing, and we’ve collected money and spent it. We need to start investing in making what we have more valuable instead of letting the years pass by.”

“It means we’re going to have to raise taxes,” Councilman John Dunleavy said.

“We will not raise taxes with this,” Mr. Walter shot back.

“We’re not putting this on the backs of taxpayers,” the supervisor said, indicating that Community Development Agency money obtained from land sales at EPCAL would be tapped.

Board members have expressed interest in ceding some control over land use permits at EPCAL to a state authority that would encompass all town, county and state review of projects at EPCAL under one agency. Mr. Walter said development at EPCAL has been hampered by layers of bureaucracy.

At Devens, the former military base was spread over four small towns and a state-appointed authority was created to regulate redevelopment of the fort property. The authority has 12 members, all appointed by the governor, half of whom were recommended by the towns.

It would be up to New York State to create a similar authority at EPCAL.


11/04/10 2:36pm
11/04/2010 2:36 PM

TIM GANNON PHOTO The site of a proposed shopping center at the corner of Sound Avenue and Route 25A in Wading River.

Much like his controversial Park Road property in Riverhead, the Wading River acreage that catering hall owner Ken Barra plans to develop also was recommended to be rezoned by the town’s master plan consultants in 2002, only to have that recommendation rejected in the adopted master plan.
Dominique Mendez, the co-founder of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Committee, brought this to the Town Board’s attention at its meeting Wednesday. She said there also is a mistake in the adopted master plan, that suggests one zoning but includes text supporting another.
Mr. Barra, owner of East Wind Caterers, recently proposed to build 32,518 square feet of retail in about 30 small buildings, along with a 106-seat “cafeteria-style” restaurant on the triangle of land by the traffic light at Sound Avenue and Route 25A.
Ms. Mendez said the master plan consultant in 2002 recommended that this property be rezoned from commercial to a residential campus zone, which would not permit retail stores.
The draft master plan states, “The existing highway service/commercial zoning near the Parker Road/Sound Avenue intersection is not needed. Stores are already clustered around the Wading River-Manorville intersection and the area’s small population would not be able to support additional retail at Parker Road,” which is another name for this section of Route 25A.
The consultants said professional offices and campus-style multi-family housing would be permitted under their proposed zoning.
But a later draft, as well as the adopted master plan, instead recommends allowing Business CR, which is also called rural neighborhood business, at this site.
The change was explained in a draft version of the master plan as being because “portions of the Route 25A area on the west side of Parker Road are already zoned multi-famiy residential/professional office.”
Despite this, the 2003 master plan recommends the Business CR zoning, but the retains the text from the draft plan that states that the commercial zoning near that intersection is not needed.
Mr. Barra’s proposed shopping center at the intersection of Park Road/Thomas Kelly Memorial Drive and Sound Avenue also was recommended to be rezoned to a use that would not permit retail by the master plan consultants. That recommendation was later changed in the final master plan, which was adopted by both the Planning Board and the Town Board with the Business CR zoning in place.
When residents complained about the rezoning after Mr. Barra submitted a site plan for a shopping center there, the Town Board rezoned the property back to residential in 2004.
But Mr. Barra sued and won, with the courts upholding his commercial zoning. Residents are now pressing the town and Suffolk County to acquire that property.
Town planning director Rick Hanley said the Wading River property had been zoned for highway business before the master plan.
Town Board members seemed unimpressed with the consultant’s recommendations Tuesday.
“I can’t imagine that they thought that site was suitable for residential,” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said.
“I wouldn’t want to see multi-family homes there,” Supervisor Sean Walter said. The property was originally zoned for business and it stayed zoned for business, Mr. Walter said.
“This mistake was not under your watch but you are accountable for how the town proceeds on this issue,” Ms. Mendez said. “I hope you correct this mistake and change the zoning.”
Mr. Barra could not be immediately reached for comment.