06/22/13 8:00am
GOOGLE MAPS | The land Suffolk County is looking to preserve is on the west side of Park Road and fronts Sound Avenue.

GOOGLE MAPS | The land Suffolk County is looking to preserve is on the west side of Park Road and fronts Sound Avenue.

We would like to clear up some misconceptions about the potential preservation of 15 acres of land on the northwest corner of Sound Avenue and Park Road, near Reeves Park.

We are writing to show our support for Suffolk County’s acquisition of the entire parcel, owned by Ed Broidy, as farmland preservation instead of parkland preservation. We feel this would ensure the property will continue to be farmed forever for future generations as a real working farm.

In a current lawsuit settlement between Mr. Broidy and the Town of Riverhead, the landowner would preserve seven acres along Sound Avenue as farmland and be able to build 15 homes to the north, on the remaining eight acres.

[Related: Don't undermine preservation efforts]

Suffolk County is looking to purchase this property to create a park, which would include recreation trails and parking for the facility. This land has been farmed for 200 years and it is almost unthinkable to take a prime-soil farm out of production and replace it with a Suffolk County park. You only have to wonder what county officials were thinking about to put hiking trails in the middle of an open potato field. We have trails at our 2,000-acre Enterprise Park at Calverton property, 300 acres at the newly purchased North Fork Preserve and many other trails throughout Riverhead Town.

The land proposed to be preserved as park would require taking the entire property out of farming permanently and would require not only use of town Community Preservation Fund monies, which have been depleted in recent years, but also ongoing maintenance of the park with town resources — on behalf of all Suffolk County residents.

The Town currently owes over $76 million in debt in open space purchases and incoming CPF funds can no longer keep up with the annual debt service. CPF proceeds come from a tax on property sales. Unless the economy makes a big recovery, our reserves will be depleted in five years. At that time, our taxpayers will be facing a big increase in their taxes, as we would then have to dip into the general fund to make up for the debt payment shortfalls.

This potential debt would rival our suffocating landfill debt. It would be irresponsible to continue to spend money we don’t have. On the other hand, a farmland purchase of development rights by the county would add nothing to this debt, and is by far the better option to see the entire 15 acres preserved.

We would like to see this farm continue for another 200 years. The overwhelming majority of Reeves Park residents we have spoken to support a farmland purchase over the proposed park. On another note, to the Reeves Park residents, if this county park is built, the once-quiet Reeves Beach will be gone forever.

Step up, Suffolk County officials, and listen to our residents.

We had a conversation with the farmer who has been farming there and he indicated he would like to continue to farm the parcel. In speaking with Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski, we are all in agreement that this would be the best benefit to the community.

It seems reasonable that an agreement can be reached among Suffolk County, Riverhead Town, the landowner, and the farmer to make this a reality. A win-win for all. It is much more desirable to preserve this entire parcel as farmland in keeping with our rural character, farm heritage and agritourism focus.

We believe preserving this parcel as farmland would be in keeping with the rural character of Sound Avenue and support the Scenic Rural Historic Corridor.

Ms. Giglio, of Baiting Hollow, and Mr. Gabrielsen, of Jamesport, are both members of the Riverhead Town Board.

06/13/13 6:13pm
06/13/2013 6:13 PM
Broidy in Reeves Park

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The land just west of Park Road/Thomas Kelly Memorial Drive that nearby Reeves Park residents have wanted to see preserved.

Two Riverhead Town Board members who oppose a plan by Suffolk County to purchase 15 acres of land on Sound Avenue as open space now say they would support  a move by the county to preserve the property as farmland instead.

But county officials say such a move would require the entire potential acquisition process to start again, with no guarantees the county will be making any offers on the land.

Council members Jodi Giglio and George Gabrielsen sent a letter to county Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) Thursday voicing their support for preservation of the land as farmland, rather than open space.

Under the county’s farmland preservation program,  the county would buy what’s called development rights and the land could only be used for agriculture in the future.

“The property being preserved as parkland would require taking the entire property out of farming permanently and would not only require use of town Community Preservation Fund funds, which have been depleted in recent years, but also ongoing maintenance of the park with town resources, on behalf of all Suffolk County residents,” reads the letter, which was also sent to the News-Review.

The councilpeople say it is more desirable to preserve the land as farmland, which would be “in keeping with the rural character of Sound Avenue and would support the Scenic Rural Historic Corridor.”

The land in question is just shy of 15 acres of farmland stretching north from the northwest corner of Park Road (also called Thomas Kelly Memorial Drive) and Sound Avenue.

[See interactive map below]

It is owned by Ed Broidy, a developer whose Boom Development company first proposed a commercial shopping center at the site in 2003, a plan that met with community opposition.

When the town rezoned the property to residential uses in the mid-2000s, Mr. Broidy sued, but later offered a settlement in which he would develop the land residentially, with one seven-acre farm and 16 residential lots on the remainder of the land.

The county later proposed to acquire the land as open space under the “active recreation” section of the voter-approved drinking water protection program, for use as a fitness trail. However, that section of the program requires that a town or private entity act as a partner to manage the recreation use, and submit a plan to do so beforehand.

Riverhead Town officials estimated the cost of creating the fitness trail at about $70,000, and council members Gabrielsen and Giglio opposed doing so, saying at a recent public Town Board work session the town doesn’t have the money.

Without the support of Ms. Giglio or Mr. Gabrielsen, and since Supervisor Sean Walter once represented Mr. Broidy as his attorney and recused himself from the discussion, the Town Board wouldn’t have three votes to support of the acquisition.

That would mean the county could not proceed in purchasing the parcel.

Mr. Krupski, whose district spans the North Fork, said Friday that he plans to speak with Mr. Broidy next week, but he said preserving the land as farmland would require a whole new process be started at the county level.

On the other hand, he said, the alternative could be that the land isn’t preserved at all.

The acquisition of the farmland development rights also would require that the land be farmed, and Mr. Broidy has indicated in the past that he is not interested in doing that.

There currently is no application with the county for the purchase of the farmland development rights on the Broidy parcel, officials say.

Mr. Broidy could not immediately be reached for comment.

Long Island Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper has been critical of the two council member’s opposition to the park purchase.

“It’s properly purchased as open space,” he said Friday. “The county approved the purchase on the basis of its suitability for trails and recreation. The county got it right, Gabrielsen and Giglio have it wrong. Development rights are purchased only with the expectation that the land owner is going to continue to farm the land.

“That’s not going to happen here.”

Mr. Amper said the purchase would be “a gift from the county…why don’t they just say ‘thank you?”

tgannon@timesreview.com


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06/13/13 8:00am
GOOGLE MAPS | The land Suffolk County is looking to preserve is on the west side of Park Road and fronts Sound Avenue.

GOOGLE MAPS | The land Suffolk County is looking to preserve is on the west side of Park Road and fronts Sound Avenue, just south of the Reeves Park neighborhood.

Riverhead Town should not dare to scuttle Suffolk County’s plans to purchase 15 acres of farmland along Sound Avenue for preservation.

The property stretches north into the Reeves Park neighborhood, and Reeves Park residents — as well as others across the North Fork and all Suffolk County — have made it clear that developing the state-designated rural corridor is not in the best interest of the neighbors, or the region as a whole.

Yet town council members Jodi Giglio and George Gabrielsen have said they don’t want the town to contribute the $75,000 that would allow the joint purchase to move forward. They argue the town shouldn’t be taking developable land off tax rolls and that Riverhead’s preservation funds are dwindling. But last we checked, housing developments weren’t exactly money-makers. And $75,000 for 15 acres is an excellent deal that won’t break the bank.

The two council members have the power to block the move. Supervisor Sean Walter has recused himself from a vote because he used to represent property owner Ed Broidy as a lawyer. If Ms. Giglio and Mr. Gabrielsen do kill the measure, they would not be acting as fiscal conservatives, as they might believe. They would instead be acting penny wise and pound foolish, as Councilman James Wooten has said.

Too much money and effort have been invested over decades into preserving Sound Avenue as a treasure for all Long Islanders, starting in earnest with the two-lane highway’s designation by the state as a historic rural corridor. There have been years of litigation between the town and Mr. Broidy since the town’s master plan rezoned the land (and other parcels on Sound Avenue). In the meantime, former county legislator Ed Romaine lobbied hard to get support for Suffolk County’s purchase of the Broidy property, with area civic leaders and other residents showing up in Hauppauge to support preservation efforts. This newspaper took the unusual step of running an opinion-based photo spread of rural Sound Avenue on its cover, urging the county to act to protect the corridor. Residents later displayed those photos to county lawmakers in Hauppauge to help win support for the cause.

Throw into the mix developer Kenn Barra, who has recently sold a 4.1-acre property on the east side of Park Road, also fronting Sound Avenue, to the county for parkland. That done, one might have thought preservation of the Broidy land was also nearing the finish line.

But now it seems the deal might be dead — and over a measly $75,000?

Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski should step in and pressure Ms. Giglio and Mr. Gabrielsen to vote with their constituents. There may be no better example in this town of open space that should be preserved. It’s been 10 years since Mr. Broidy proposed a 22,000-square-foot shopping center for the site, causing great dismay among preservationists and everyday citizens. It’s now time to put this all behind us.

05/10/13 6:15pm
05/10/2013 6:15 PM
JOHN FINNEGAN COURTESY PHOTO | A proposed Riverfront zip line in downtown Riverhead is receiving backlash from the business community.

JOHN FINNEGAN COURTESY PHOTO | A proposed Riverfront zip line in downtown Riverhead is receiving backlash from the business community.

A Westchester man with hopes of bringing a 900-foot-long zip line to the Peconic waterfront in downtown Riverhead plans to address the Town Board at its work session Thursday. He aims to prove that his proposed ride is the type of attraction that will help bring foot traffic to downtown businesses.

But those same business owners he says he hopes to help say they’ll be right there waiting for him Thursday morning, prepared to argue that a downtown Riverhead zip line is something they don’t want.

“I don’t think for a minute you could ride a zip line with boats and fishermen underneath,” said downtown Riverhead Business Improvement District president Ray Pickersgill. “What are they going to do, close off the waterfront?”

Urban Jungle Zip Lines principal John Finnegan says he’s been in talks with Councilman George Gabrielsen for more than a year about his plans to erect a 70-foot tower with a zip line carrying riders over the river to a slightly shorter tower 900 feet away. The draft proposal suggests constructing the towers in the downtown parking lot that runs south of East Main Street.

Mr. Finnegan, who according to state records formed his company just six months ago, said he agreed to pay the town roughly $40,000 this year for use of its land during a meeting between himself, Mr. Gabrielsen and other town employees earlier this week. That payment would increase anywhere from 10 or 15 percent if the town decided to extend the lease next year, Mr. Gabrielsen said.

The Riverhead location, which was first reported earlier this week by riverheadlocal.com, would be the first zip line venture for Mr. Finnegan, who has previously worked as a salesman for a sports publication. The site is one of three currently being considered by Urban Jungle, the North Salem resident said. He’s been in discussions with officials in Westchester to build a ride there and has named Bryant Park in New York City as a possible site.

He said Friday he’s closest to bringing a zip line to Riverhead, where he hopes to open the ride June 28, though he has yet to file a formal application with the town. The zip line would run seven days, from noon to 10 p.m. during the peak summer months, April through October, he said.

A business plan Mr. Finnegan posted online shows that he has been seeking investors to cover 80 percent of the shares in his business, amounting to $500,000. In order for the company to break even on its investment, his business plan states that it would need to attract more than 100 riders per day, per year. The plan states that customers would pay $20 to ride the zip line and would have the option to purchase a photo for an additional $20.

Though his plan suggests advertisements would be papered on the towers, he said advertisements are not being considered at the Riverhead site.

Mr. Gabrielsen, a proponent of the project, estimates the zip line could attract more than 100 riders each weekday and up to 200 riders during weekend days.

“It’s a great idea, it’s a family event,” Mr. Gabrielsen said. “We need foot traffic and this will help facilitate that.”

But Mr. Pickersgill, who owns Robert James Salon & Spa on Main Street, said he believes construction would severely impact parking in the downtown area.

He and other business owners fear customers will be deterred from shopping locally if inconvenienced by insufficient parking, he said.

“Riverhead doesn’t need a zip line,” Mr. Pickersgill said. “It needs a parking garage.”

Further complicating the matter, the Riverhead Parking District shares ownership of the proposed site with the town.

“We pay special taxes to have rights over that property,” Mr. Pickersgill said. “We will take [the town] to court if need be.”

He said he and other business owners plan to protest the proposal when it’s brought up at Thursday’s work session.

But Mr. Finnegan, who spent his childhood summering in Jamesport, said he believes Riverhead is an ideal location for the project because of the downtown’s recent revitalization.

“I think we can help each other,” said Mr. Finnegan, who estimates the business will add 20 to 25 seasonal jobs to the local economy. “Without a question this is realistic. The town already does a great job of bringing in people to the waterfront and when word gets out about us, we will bring in more tourism.”

Thursday’s work session is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at Riverhead Town Hall. Before construction on the zip line can begin, the site plan needs to be approved by both the Town Board and the New York State Department of Labor, Mr. Gabrielsen said.

cmurray@timesreview.com

04/04/13 7:30am
04/04/2013 7:30 AM
NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Town Hall on Howell Avenue.

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Town Hall on Howell Avenue.

The Riverhead Town Board is meeting in a closed-door executive session today to interview candidates seeking to fill the vacant Town Board coordinator position, officials said.

And apparently, there is a lot of people seeking the job.

“We’re interviewing at least 10 applicants on Thursday and I’m hoping we can come up with a person this week and we can appoint someone next week,” said Councilman George Gabrielsen.

The board is hoping to hire a Riverhead Town resident for the job, Mr. Gabrielsen said.

He declined to give any names of people seeking the job.

The board has gone through three Town Board coordinators in the past three years, and the latest, Tracey Densieski, resigned as March 29 because a side-business she has selling a product called Qivana had taken off. She wanted to devote more time to that business.

Ms. Densieski was hired in December, shortly after the Town Board fired her predecessor, Linda Hulse, in a heated 3-2 vote in which Supervisor Sean Walter backed Ms. Hulse and complained that the firing came without any board discussion.

Ms. Hulse got the job in 2011 when her predecessor, Donna Zlatniski, left after she had a baby, and she later filed a $1 million lawsuit claiming she was coerced to resign after being accused of doing political work for Councilman Jim Wooten, which she and Mr. Wooten have denied.

The board’s regularly scheduled public Thursday work session has been cancelled.

tgannon@timesreview.com

03/15/13 1:54pm
03/15/2013 1:54 PM

COUNCILMAN GEORGE GABRIELSEN

Thrown another name in the hat.

Riverhead Councilman George Gabrielsen says he’s interested in running to fill the North Fork’s State Assembly seat vacant since former Assemblyman Dan Losquadro was elected Brookhaven highway superintendent earlier this month.

“At this time, I’m still up in the air, but I’m definitely interested in it,” Mr. Gabrielsen said in an interview Friday. “I haven’t officially put my name in to be screened, but I put it out there to party officials that I definitely have an interest in it. I’m moving in that direction.”

Mr. Gabrielsen, a Republican who owns a farm in Jamesport, was first elected to the Town Board in 2009 to fill the remainder of the term of former Councilman Tim Buckley, who resigned.

While the commute to Albany has discouraged some people from running for state office, Mr. Gabrielsen said he’ll familiar with that trip, since he owns a farm in upstate Summit, west of Albany.

“And my wife is actually from Albany,” he said. “What gives me a good advantage is that, in having a farm up there, I think I have a lot in common with some of the legislators from that area. I know some of them already and I would have kind of a heads up in negotiating with them.”

Mr. Gabrielsen believes the East End’s biggest issue is preserving open space and farmers are the key to that goal.

“We’ve really got to look for legislation to protect farmland,” he said. “Farmers been good guardians of the land. I think I have the background to truly represent the East End.”

The decision on whether to hold a special election to fill the seat or leave to the November general election rests with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has yet to indicate his preference.

The Assembly district covers Southold, Riverhead, Shelter Island and northeastern Brookhaven.

02/04/13 9:00am
02/04/2013 9:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The ballfields at EPCAL will be named after two soldiers who died in Afghanistan, Jonathan Keller and Anthony Venetz Jr., both of Wading River.

A pair of new ballfields at the Enterprise Park at Calverton will be named in honor of two highly decorated Wading River soldiers who gave their lives defending their country.

The Riverhead Town Board is planning to name one of the two fields at the new park after U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Anthony Venetz Jr, and the other field after U.S. Army Sergeant Jonathan Keller.

The Town Board in December voted to name the entire park complex being built at EPCAL as “Veterans Memorial Park,” citing the fact that the property was owned by the U.S. Navy for many years and the Grumman Corporation built and tested fighter jets there.

In addition, the individual fields at the park also will be named after individual veterans from the area.

“We have four fields there and we’re going to name them all after veterans,” Councilman George Gabrielsen said.

The long-planned park is expected to finally open in April, he said. It had been delayed for many years by requirements from both the county health department and the state transportation department, officials said.

The Town Board plans to vote on resolutions naming the two fields after SFC Venetz and Sgt. Keller at its meeting Tuesday, and has yet to decide on names for the two other fields.

“That’s so nice,” SFC Venetz’s mother, Marion Venetz, said of the town’s plans. “I’m just honored they decided to do that. What a nice tribute to my son. I think it’s a very nice way to honor the veterans.”

“We are honored that the Riverhead Town Board and the community would recognize and pay tribute to our fallen sons,” said Martin Keller, Sgt. Keller’s father. “We hope everyone enjoys this Memorial Park and its facilities as it brings the community together.”

The first two soldiers being honored by the town grew up on the same block in Wading River, where they were one grade apart in school. Both died of injuries suffered while serving in Afghanistan, and they both died on nearly the same day, two years apart.

Sgt. Keller, a 1998 graduate of Shoreham-Wading River high school, had first served in the U.S. Navy during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and then joined the New York State Army National Guard Reserve’s “Fighting 69th” in 2004.

In late 2007, he was called to serve in Afghanistan and was assigned to the 172nd Airborne in Kabul in early 2008. It was there, while engaged in battle with Taliban forces, that he sustained critical gunshot wounds that led to his death on Jan. 24, 2009.

He received a Purple Heart, an Army Commendation Medal and the Army’s Meritorious Medal.

SFC Venetz is a 1999 graduate of Shoreham-Wading River high school and joined the Army in 2001. He became a special forces engineer sergeant and served twice in Iraq and later in Afghanistan. He died from injuries sustained while on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan on Jan 28, 2011.

He was given two Bronze Star Medals, including one with valor, two Purple Heart awards and four Army Commendation Medals, two of which were for valor.

tgannon@timesreview.com

12/27/12 8:00am
12/27/2012 8:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead councilwoman Jodi Giglio, right, and Supervisor Sean Walter, center, didn’t always agree in 2012.

There were some public apologies made in 2012 after disputes within the all-Republican Riverhead Town Board.

After a simmering feud between Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio boiled over in June with a Walter tirade in Town Hall, it was the supervisor who apologized during a Town Board meeting days later for “being out of line” for screaming and cursing at Ms. Giglio. According to several accounts, Mr. Walter lost his temper with the councilwoman while suspecting her of working behind his back to get his friend and adviser, Anthony Coates, banned from town cars and Town Hall.

Ms. Giglio called the public apology “nice,” but never said she accepted it. She later filed a harassment complaint against Mr. Walter with town police, though she reportedly asked for no charges to be filed and requested the report “for documentation purposes.”

Things quieted down for awhile — at least publicly — until three council members, Ms. Giglio, James Wooten and George Gabrielsen, pulled a controversial resolution off the floor, meaning it wasn’t on the agenda, at a Nov. 7 Town Board meeting.

The resolution called for the sudden firing of Town Board coordinator Linda Hulse, whom Ms. Giglio said lost some councilmembers’ trust.

“This is an evil act right here,” Mr. Walter said of the measure, lamenting the fact that Ms. Hulse was never told ahead of time.

“How many other employees are you planning to fire this way?“

Mr. Walter tried to stall the vote and sway some minds as the board argued publicly for over an hour, but to no avail. The move passed 3-2.

Mr. Dunleavy, who voted against the firing, said he was never informed of the plan and said Mr. Hulse should have been told, too.

“This is a coward’s position to let them go without talking to them,” he said.

Mr. Dunleavy then accused Mr. Wooten of being “rude” ever since he got elected. “That’s not true,” Mr. Wooten responded.

At the start of the next week’s more cordial Town Board work session, a regretful Mr. Wooten apologized for the way the firing was handled.

“I was reminded last night it was very unprofessional,” he said, choking up a bit. “It wasn’t businesslike, and for that, I’m sorry.”

Ms. Giglio and Mr. Gabrielsen offered no apologies.

At an event in Jamesport that same night, where Mr. Coates announced plans to run for Town Board in 2013, Mr. Walter said “Giglio is toast.”

mwhite@timesreview.com