Roughly a week after town officials discussed condemning the vacant former Sears building and three nearby buildings on East Main Street, the properties have been sold, owner Shelley Gordon confirmed Friday afternoon. READ
The state of “progress” in downtown Riverhead is often discussed but hard to pin down: crime rears its head now and again, vacant storefronts still dot Main Street and a short drive to the railroad station area — or even the Main Street area — at any time of year can reveal a homeless population living in the shadows.
On the other hand, it would be disingenuous to discount some of the anchor projects that have come to Main Street in recent years and subsequently drawn other businesses and investments to town. (more…)
Twenty one years ago, the News-Review reported that there would “definitely be a 751-space, two-story parking structure” created in downtown Riverhead to address a burgeoning traffic problem.
While that traffic problem remains — and in fact, more residents than ever are living downtown, with more residential units in the works — the parking garage remains a dream.
But that didn’t stop a consulting firm from examining the idea at Town Hall recently after giving downtown traffic a grade of “F.”
That proposal, as well as others, were all part of a wider look into developing downtown Riverhead as it continues to grow — from a traffic perspective, a housing perspective and an overall marketing perspective. (more…)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.