08/24/12 8:00am
08/24/2012 8:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Vince Taldone and his put bull, Champ, just a few weeks before Champ was put down.

In the fall of 2010, I read an article in the Riverhead News-Review about the Town Board reconsidering the town’s animal shelter euthanasia policy.

In the article, Supervisor Sean Walter was quoted as saying, “Some of them have been in there for close to six months. The more humane thing is not to leave them in there for another six months.”

In part, I agreed. Certainly warehousing animals is not very humane.

Councilman Jim Wooten, the town’s liaison to the shelter, noted that most dogs do get adopted, but the less desirable animals, primarily pit bulls, remain.

Pit bulls (including the American pit bull terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier and the Staffordshire bull terrier) are some of the gentlest breeds of dogs. The American Temperament Test Society (ATTS.org) gives the pit bull a very high passing rate of 90.6 percent, which is better than the beagle, the cocker spaniel, the miniature poodle and more than 100 other breeds.

I decided that I had to save one of the dogs, so I visited petfinders.com and saw a photo of a senior pit bull mix named Champ, who had been at the shelter for more than one year.

With Supervisor Walter’s comment in mind — as well as my 92-year-old mother’s recent comment that she was lonely — I went off to the shelter.

I fell in love with Champ as soon as I met him. He was quiet, friendly and had a funny walk. A kind volunteer named Pat Lynch explained that Champ never barked and was a very gentle animal who was found abandoned.

When I looked at Champ, standing in the prison-like atmosphere of the shelter, I could almost hear him saying, “Take me home, please!”

So I did.

My mother expected me to return with a small fluffy dog that could sit on her lap. She took one look at the 70-pound Champ and immediately decided that she was afraid of the gentle dog. In time, though, he would win her over.

Shortly after we brought him home, we discovered that he had Lyme disease, hook worm, advanced heart worm and a bladder infection. I could have returned him to the shelter because of medical treatment costs, which the town certainly would not cover (euthanasia is much more affordable). Champ was so loving that I couldn’t imagine parting with him. He had quickly become part of the family. He stayed.

Champ survived the treatments. I was thrilled. So thrilled that I installed a new back door with a sturdy doggie door especially for Champ.

He became even happier when I started taking him on two long walks a day.

I think I enjoyed the walks as much as he did. After living in my neighborhood for almost 12 years, I recognized many but knew almost none of my neighbors. Champ loved every one them and soon my neighbors began to recognize us. We had conversations and I got to know them better.

As for my mother, she started spending her time reminding me (as if I needed to be reminded) to make sure that the water bowl was full and to feed Champ on time. Champ made her giggle like a little girl whenever he would charge out his doggie door and run around the yard to meet me by the grill when I cooked chicken.

He made both of us smile every day and brought us great joy when he lived with us.

In addition to spending more time with Champ, I also started spending time walking dogs as a volunteer at the Riverhead animal shelter. I got to know a number of volunteers who selflessly spent much time and effort to walk, play and otherwise socialize the dogs to keep them from going crazy being locked up for long periods without human contact. Animals need a comforting, human touch as much as we humans do.

Initially, I joined in discussions with the town’s animal shelter advisory committee but the politics were overwhelming and the town was clearly not going to spend any additional monies to make things substantially better for the dogs. I decided to focus on the animals at the shelter and also on Champ.

Over the past almost two years, Champ’s “funny walk” became worse. It was, as we suspected, neurological damage (either from the Lyme disease I treated him for or his previous home). On the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 8, Champ went out of his doggie door for the last time. He fell and lost the use of his hind legs.

We had no choice but euthanasia. We adopted him so he wouldn’t be euthanized but the choice was the only responsible course of action.

The next night, I closed Champ’s doggie door. He was gone from our lives and changed the way I thought of pit bulls, as well as many of my friends, family and neighbors who all fell in love with this kind and loving animal. Although he lived only two more years after adoption, he certainly had a loving home that he deserved.

For all of Champ’s buddies at the Riverhead shelter, as well as other town and private facilities, I can only hope that other people will skip the puppy mills and find a place in their lives for the unconditional love of a shelter dog. For me, I will take a little time and surely find another kind, loving animal for whom I can open that doggie door again!

If you are interested in adopting a dog, visit the Riverhead animal shelter. You also may want to visit the YouTube site for New York Bully Crew (a rescue group on Long Island) where you can watch videos of dogs who need a loving home: youtube.com/NewYorkBullyCrew.

Vince Taldone, a retired urban planner, is an executive board member of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association. He lives in downtown Riverhead.

10/13/11 4:00am
10/13/2011 4:00 AM

Recent News-Review headlines such as these have been striking: “Riverhead planners rebuke two Town Board requests, angering supervisor” and “ZBA ruling has Town Board scrambling.”

The supervisor’s warning followed: “If the Planning Board won’t do what the members of the Town Board request of them to do [sic], then the Town Board is going to have to seriously look at replacing Planning Board members, because they are not doing the will of the elected officials and the people.”

What’s happening here?

The Town Board appoints all Planning and Zoning Board members. Everyone knows that. But many — including some Town Board members — don’t grasp just how powerful these appointees are. Planning Board member Ed Densieski said, “They don’t have the authority to tell us what to do.” He’s right.

It’s no accident that state law gives these appointees terms longer than the elected officials who choose them. Or that the Town Board can’t remove members because they dislike their decisions, but only “for cause,” which sets a very high bar. Or that only one term on each board expires per year, making it impossible to “clean house.” Appointed members are clearly intended to be autonomous and beyond the reach of political pressure, so they can decide issues before them purely on their merits.

And yet the Town Board keeps trying to control them. Mr. Walter is reported as saying, “In my world, we’re the elected officials, but when we ask the Planning Board to do something, we sort of expect them to do it, because we’re the ones people vote in.” He also disagreed with his town attorney’s opinion, saying: “I do not want [the Planning Board] processing the application … until the Town Board interprets the covenants.”

The supervisor’s perspective is fundamentally wrong; these boards are empowered to proceed as they see fit. If appointees simply did the bidding of those in office, the boards would be superfluous.
The battles illustrate how crucial it is that those appointed to these key posts have useful experience, sound judgment and a commitment to enforcing our laws objectively. That raises another problem: the tone set by those doing the hiring.

The supervisor proclaimed at a public meeting: “I personally don’t like the master plan; I think it’s a load of crap.” There can be no doubt about his message to officials who will enforce that code, or about his inclination to appoint members that share his extreme views. Could we expect anyone appointed in this atmosphere to be an objective interpreter?

When the term of a highly experienced ZBA member — a career city planner — ended last year, Mr. Walter said he “wanted to go in a new direction with the ZBA,” choosing a replacement that “more reflects the ideas and values of this Town Board.” That new direction has consequences.

There’s also constant “tinkering.” Last year, the Town Board redefined “floor area” so developers can build bigger hotels while preserving less land. How? By not counting bathrooms, closets and hallways! The argument was “hotel rooms produce the revenue.” Mr. Walter observed developers were “not receiving a benefit” from those other things. (Would you stay in a hotel without them?)
And one Town Board member apparently wants to redefine dictionary terms, so the ZBA can allow an “accessory” use to be larger than a “principal” use.

Some taxpayers believe the Town Board isn’t really upset at the latest planning and zoning decisions, thinking it’s just useful to seem indignant at election time. “Planning committed a travesty!” — (wink).
I prefer to take people at face value. In any case, where we need unified agencies smoothly coordinating town business, we see constant infighting and chaos. There’s even been talk of more lawsuits, with one board suing another. At taxpayer expense. Swell.

Much has been written about a new house in South Jamesport, under construction for a year without required variances. Here, the planning department lost two court fights over a ZBA ruling, after which they and the town attorney faced off against the buildings department, which ignored both. As it turns out, that same project lacks wetlands and floodplain permits, too.

That brings us to the stepchildren of the planning and permitting process: the Conservation Advisory Council and the Landmarks Preservation Commission. No one bothers to consult the former and no one is obliged to listen to the latter. Both entities look good on paper, but they sometimes seem just for show — to give the illusion that the town favors landmarks and conservation. The record suggests otherwise.
This still-illegal house in South Jamesport is typical of the dysfunction our town is known for. Why not have a single agency or department responsible for ensuring that every project in town adheres to the laws on the books? Why not provide for enforcement, and accountability? It’s not that hard.

As for zoning — we labored for years, in an open and lawful process, to implement a plan to govern and guide future development. Anyone wanting to amend that plan should campaign openly and invite public participation. The “stealth” approach of disparaging the law, altering codes so they’re ineffective and trying simultaneously to stack boards with biased appointees while tying their hands so they have no freedom to act is reprehensible. We deserve better.

Recently, Town Board members saw a video promoting development in Brookhaven; the supervisor said he’d like to see Riverhead do the same. Sadly, local officials weren’t paying attention. The film narrator plainly stated “Brookhaven Blight” was caused by “haphazard zoning and a lack of code enforcement” and “unrestrained business development.” Those words precisely characterize what happens in our town. To avoid Brookhaven’s fate, we need government that respects and enforces the law.
Larry Simms is a principal in a commercial flooring technology firm. He owns a house in South Jamesport.

09/21/11 8:55am
09/21/2011 8:55 AM

A certified audit by independent accountants showing Riverhead’s financial condition as of Dec. 31, 2009, is complete and available online at riverheadli.com. It establishes that when Supervisor Sean Walter took office on Jan. 1, 2010, an unrestricted general fund surplus of $8,060,427 existed and the town’s governmental funds had “$15,349,623 unreserved and available to meet the town’s current and future needs.”

The credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s also recently announced it is continuing the town’s strong AA+ credit rating, the highest credit rating ever held by the town and achieved during my time as supervisor.

Hearing those two news items I could not help but smile.

The then newly elected Supervisor Walter spent most of 2010 semi-hysterical about the town’s financial condition, constantly whining that Riverhead was in the midst of a great financial crisis that he blamed alternately on “the previous supervisor” and “the previous administration.”

Last November, in a frenzy over finances, he fired a fire marshal and other longtime town employees.

Now, in September 2011, we finally have the truth as confirmed by an independent audit and an independent credit rating agency review.

Ronald Reagan said “facts are stubborn things.” These are the stubborn facts.

• The principal reason Riverhead had ample surplus fund balances on Dec. 31, 2009, as now certified, was that during my administration we added $10,875,000 to the town’s reserves, ($7,500,000 from non-refundable contract deposits from Riverhead Resorts; $375,000 from non-refundable contract deposits from Rechler; $2,000,000 from successful settlement of litigation against LIPA; and $1,000,000 through thrifty management resulting in year-end surpluses).

• Riverhead received two upgrades from national credit rating agencies while I was supervisor, and on Dec. 31, 2009, Riverhead enjoyed its highest credit rating ever.

• The six budgets I proposed while in office contained tax rate increases averaging less than the rate of inflation. My 2005 budget proposed a tax rate decrease.

• Each of my proposed budgets used less of the town reserves than had the previous one. All used less than the previous supervisor had.

• Not one of my proposed budgets was adopted without the Republican majority’s increasing it over my objection. For example, my final budget proposed in September 2009 was adopted by the Town Board on Nov. 20, 2009, after the Republican majority had added $1.5 million to it.

In view of the certification of a large surplus when I left office and the renewal of the town’s strong credit rating achieved while I was in office, how can Mr. Walter explain his hysteria about town finances? His hysteria reached a crescendo last November with the adoption of a 2011 budget featuring the firing of town employees, including the fire marshal, and the highest town tax increase on Long Island.

Did Mr. Walter’s inaccurate statements about the town’s financial condition result from deliberate deceit or simple stupidity? You choose. There is a better way to handle the Town’s finances — honestly, openly, truthfully and with respect for the intelligence of the taxpayers.

Mr. Cardinale is a former Riverhead supervisor who is running as a Democrat for his previous post, now held by Republican Sean Walter. Mr. Cardinale is a Jamesport attorney.

08/17/11 4:21pm
08/17/2011 4:21 PM

I am very proud that Vail-Leavitt Music Hall continues to serve its mission to the community. We have managed to sustain ourselves through the efforts of great bands, including Rosie Ledet & the Zydeco Playboys, Lil’ Cliff & the Cliffhangers, Who Are Those Guys, Jessie Haynes, Bruce MacDonald, the EastEnders, Thursday Night Jazz Jammers and numerous others who gave of their time and talent to assist us in fundraising events over the last 10 months. Each of them were part of the annual Blues Festival over the last few years, and we sincerely appreciate their support at this crucial time in our organization’s history. For a more complete retrospective, I encourage readers to see the array of Vail-Leavitt memorabilia on display at Riverhead Free Library during August.

Special thanks are due to our treasurer, Vince Tria. His service to the music hall has been unquestionably meritorious through the last eight-plus years [and] an integral part of the efforts that restored and operated the Vail. Over that time, Mr. Tria was recognized with awards for his exemplary volunteerism by diverse groups including local media, Chamber of Commerce and Daughters of the American Revolution. These accolades have been rivaled only by the frequency of his often unfair vilification by those who perceive him as a political opponent.

This raises the thorny subject of local politics. Over the last nine-plus years that I have been part of the Vail-Leavitt executive board, we attempted to keep the Vail neutral. Our open rental policy provided ample opportunity for all local parties to utilize the hall for fundraising and made the Vail a comfortable forum for candidate debates, public meetings and civic events. In fact, a review of our schedule history shows that up to the town’s inaugural event of 2010, politically affiliated events were split almost exactly 50-50 between the Republican and Democratic parties, in addition to a larger number of nonpartisan Town Board meetings and events.

Our path since that inaugural is well documented in public records: a hostile takeover attempt of the Blues Festival followed by smear and innuendo tactics against us. When I offered to open discussions with town leaders in January, I was rebuffed and insulted. When I inquired about alternative sites or plans, those who had refused to negotiate in good faith suddenly expressed outrage. Finally, in April, as a last resort, I applied for two event dates specifically attempting to prompt town leaders to hold some talks — any talks — with my organization. For the record: Vail-Leavitt Music Hall board did not withdraw its special event applications this year; it was intentionally bypassed by the Town Board in favor of competing Business Improvement District Management Association proposals.

If the Town Board had read those two proposals, as I did, they would have found a compromise was easily attainable. The Vail proposed using its own outdoor stage, which wouldn’t have interfered with the BID’s use of the town showmobile. Despite my attempts to initiate a meeting prior to the Town Board’s action, none was scheduled. Both events were proposed as free admission, so why was the Vail’s specifically overlooked? Neither application included food or crafts vendors, but both food and alcohol were served at the July 16 BID event, legal violations retroactively remedied by a Town Board resolution days after the event. We all know that if the Vail-Leavitt had ever served alcohol without proper advance permits in place, the response would have been swift and severe. It’s also possible there was no proper event insurance in place for either BID event, exposing taxpayers to millions in risk because of the Town Board’s lack of due diligence in reviewing the applications.

The facts are clear. Vail-Leavitt has survived the past 19 months in spite of our town leaders. Local government should act to shield and support the Vail, not attack or ostracize it. One would think a charitable and historic community venue supporting itself independently deserved better. The music hall board never interfered with or criticized the quality of events produced by others, but the reverse cannot be said. When we urged others to talk with us, we weren’t given the opportunity to speak and were simply ignored. I believe our experience and input could have helped.

There was irony to be found in the BID’s “Mardi Gras” event. In the actual New Orleans version, the parades and music events benefit the local economy and also give financial support to many charitable and community organizations. In Riverhead, the event was produced solely for the profit earned by a few select businesses. Meanwhile, town representatives neglected and alienated the town’s oldest historic performance venue, run by an all-volunteer group that gave of its meager resources for community benefit throughout the year. The BID management association eventually and grudgingly offered the Vail a small rental fee to act as an indoor venue on Aug. 6, reminiscent of the schoolyard bully who swipes a dessert cake, eats most of it, then asks if you’d like the crumbs back. They and our Town Board should be ashamed of the manner in which they continue to treat Vail-Leavitt. Arrogance has become a conspicuous cover for an inept and bullying style embodied by these so-called leaders.

My contempt for them is exceeded only by the pride in my steadfast board and our supporters for moving us forward.

Robert Barta is president of the Council for the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall Inc.

08/03/11 3:03pm
08/03/2011 3:03 PM

Two major contracts at the Enterprise Park at Calverton were terminated during Sean Walter’s term as supervisor, the $18 million Rechler Industrial Park contract and the $155 million Riverhead Resorts contract.

When Mr. Walter terminated the Rechler contract, he said he was “happy” about what he called good news.

Most residents of Riverhead were not happy nor did they consider the demise of this contract good news.

Gregg Rechler, the most experienced and best financed developer of industrial property on Long Island, gave back what Mr. Walter was fond of calling “The Great Giveaway.” By doing so he dashed Riverhead’s hopes of an $18 million increase to our reserve fund, a larger tax base and thousands of new jobs.

Tellingly, the Rechler group blamed the contract termination on “the Town Board’s inability to understand economic fundamentals and its unwillingness to adapt to the changing economic landscape.” Rechler added: “The board had an opportunity to ensure the future of a more vibrant Riverhead. Unfortunately, the Town Board’s inability to understand the economic fundamentals of a successful project forced us to withdraw.”

Next, Mr. Walter terminated the Riverhead Resorts contract. Ever since, he has refused to consider purchase offers at EPCAL including those proposing an Indian casino and a polo and equestrian center. According to Mr. Walter, all offers conflict with “his plan.”  The property is no longer for sale.  Exactly what is Mr. Walter’s plan?

Mr. Walter’s plan is for the town to pay to survey the land, subdivide it into small lots, obtain all town, state, county and federal approvals, and then pay to build roads and install utilities and other improvements. He’s going to develop EPCAL at taxpayer expense.

In the midst of a recession, at a time when Long Island’s best financed industrial developer has declined to move forward, Mr. Walter, with no relevant experience, no clear plan, and using our tax dollars, is pushing Riverhead to be the developer of property that Long Island’s most experienced developer walked away from.

Mr. Walter promised in his inaugural address that he “would not call for another study at EPCAL.” His “plan” has already cost taxpayers more than half a million dollars for more unnecessary EPCAL studies. He is pushing to spend millions more to subdivide and improve the site, tasks typically paid for by developers. Under Mr. Walter’s plan, EPCAL will be a financial drain on taxpayers for years to come, rather than the source of immediate tax relief that it could be.

Receiving $8 million dollars at EPCAL in non-refundable deposits which happened during my administration is preferable to spending millions of tax dollars at EPCAL as is happening during Mr. Walter’s administration. Selling at market value is preferable to holding EPCAL off the tax rolls indefinitely.

The town must focus on getting EPCAL sold and back on the tax rolls so it can expand our tax base and diminish our tax burden.
The supervisor and Town Board should not use our tax dollars to play real estate developer. Town Boards are untrained and ill suited to be developers. Riverhead Town Board’s past performance trying to be a developer (e.g. at the Suffolk Theater) proved unfortunate and expensive for the taxpayers.

All that’s assured by Mr. Walter’s plan is enormous risk and excessive expense for the taxpayer.

The better way for Riverhead is to sell the property at market value, get it back on the tax rolls, and leave its development to experienced private developers.

Mr. Cardinale is a former Riverhead supervisor who is running for his old post as a Democrat.

07/14/11 4:45am
07/14/2011 4:45 AM

A recent News-Review headline read “Town probes legality of new house” in South Jamesport. Here’s how a follow-up headline could read: “Town finds house illegal, declines to act.” When laws aren’t enforced, they might as well not exist.

Here are things on which town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz and I agree:

• The house being built requires zoning variances.

• Variances issued for this property expired years ago.

• The Riverhead building department instructed the owner last December to secure variances; he did not.

• Construction was allowed to go forward on a structure that is inherently illegal.

• No action has been taken by the town since this was questioned — months ago.

Much about this complex matter is murky or disputed, but those things are clear.

In early May, I suggested halting work on the project might be appropriate until questions could be answered. The town attorney commented to me he “thought it kind of odd” that the building department did not say — in December — that “no further work shall be done.” He also indicated a stop work order would be requested, but no stop work order was issued.

I emphasized that, if the project is at risk, no one is doing the owner any favors by delaying action. When someone’s spending $10,000 per week, why wait 10 weeks to tell him he must get zoning exceptions or can’t occupy his house? It makes violations harder to correct and increases the odds he’ll sue the town.

When I asked the town attorney whose interests were served by waiting, he declined to respond.

This all started with a question, not a complaint. A construction site lacked a permit, so I asked the building department about the matter. “Yes, a permit must be posted,” I was told. I said, “Well, this project needs one.”

With no permit in evidence two months later, I checked the file. I found far too many problems to list here, but here are a few highlights (beyond the missing variances):

• A county health department-approved site plan says “one-story house.”

• The site and building plans disagree on house height above grade.

• The original property owner says the natural grade was raised 3 feet before the referenced survey; he wrote to the building department that the house still violates height limits.

• The building plans say site elevation is 83 feet. (No land in South Jamesport is 83 feet high).

• The plans sometimes describe a 2-foot crawl space and sometimes an 8-foot basement — but it can’t be both. (The house has a big Bilco cellar door that isn’t on the plans and appears to breach setbacks).

• There are two “attics.” One is where you’d expect. The other adjoins second floor bedrooms — 350 square feet, insulated, with a standard door, four big windows and a loft ceiling. (Will this remain “unfinished attic storage” after the inspectors leave?)

I didn’t file a complaint but inquired of the town attorney’s office. It was then suggested I write to the Town Board. I detailed apparent problems and said an investigation seemed in order. That was May 6.

On May 9, Supervisor Sean Walter copied me on a note to Mr. Kozakiewicz, directing him to have code enforcement check it out and report back.

On May 16, Mr. Kozakiewicz told me he was researching the matter. Work continued, and still no permit.

On July 8, Mr. Kozakiewicz said he planned to ask the building department to determine whether there is a basement, and to direct the owner to apply for new variances.

Think about that. Two months after the Town Board was alerted to the apparently illegal project, and eight months after the building department began inspections, the town had not yet determined if there the house had a basement.

One thing did happen after the Town Board was alerted; the building department issued a permit that predates the owner’s application! He applied Nov. 19, 2010. The building department responded Dec. 14, 2010 that he must get variances, then this June issued a permit dated Nov. 3, creating the illusion that everything’s fine. It’s like stamping “kosher” on a ham.

I won’t speculate on why all this happened but note that I’ve had many satisfactory dealings with the building department. And I’ve watched a dozen neighbors build or renovate in as many years, without issues. This is different.

The planning department fought hard to oppose creation of this tiny lot. Why the Zoning Board of Appeals allowed this odd subdivision just 10 days before new zoning was enacted remains a mystery. It was vacant land, bought by an up-island speculator after the town Master Plan was announced. He knew when he purchased that it couldn’t be split; there was no “hardship.”

The ZBA, whose members we don’t elect, has absolute power. Through one decision at a time, they can override and invalidate the Master Plan. In this case, with some members appointed by an administration that has denounced zoning rules, the odds seem high they’ll approve this mansion sitting on 16,000 square feet of land, where the minimum lot is 40,000 square feet.

Still, getting a variance is the law. If we stop requiring that owners follow rules and procedures, we give up even the pretense of a town governed by laws, equitably, with just one class of citizen. That’s unthinkable.

Larry Simms is a principal in a commercial flooring technology firm.  He owns a house in South Jamesport.

06/09/11 3:36am
06/09/2011 3:36 AM

Over the past several months, as most Wading River residents are aware, a series of letters has arrived in our mailboxes on bold letterhead entitled “Save Wading River,” all signed by Dominique Mendez. The wording and tone of these letters contains phrases such as “… our town officials promised us nothing significant in the way of action … Not even a commitment to obey the law on the review of all this proposed mega-development.” So, naturally I became alarmed as the last thing I envisioned for my new hometown was to be another Route 58, filled with more drug stores, chain restaurants, fast food joints and outlet malls. In the interest of developing an informed opinion, however, I decided to investigate this issue further and became more acquainted with what plans, exactly, these commercial developer “culprits” had in mind, and I must say this turned out to be a fascinating experience.

Kenney Barra, the owner and proprietor of The Inn and Spa at East Wind, was kind enough to give me, a total stranger, 90 minutes of his time to further explain his development plans along the route 25A corridor. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Mr. Barra intends to build a lovely village, almost akin to a Milleridge Village, with little shops and restaurants in the shape of a small town square, between what is now The Village Beverage and the East Wind reception hall.  I was also impressed to learn that Mr. Barra also had several parties already interested in renting these prospective suites and that these shops were all to be mom-and-pop-type shops and not large, chain-type establishments. Yet, when I attended a “Save Wading River” function at the Shoreham-Wading River Library I was almost appalled at the misrepresentation of the very plans I myself was shown. Slogans like “food court” and “strip mall” were used to represent these lovely plans that would bring jobs and industry to our town. Not to mention the fact that the architectural designs used to build this village seem to fit right in with the rural character that Wading River so proudly boasts — that is to say, cute little houses and water fountains to be polished with immaculate landscaping.

During the course of my investigation, I as well found myself speaking with another entrepreneur, Keith Luce of the Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport. This fine chef and businessman has become a victim of Ms. Mendez’ Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, too. For those who have not yet had the pleasure of having a gourmet meal at Jedidiah Hawkins, you are missing a lovely evening or charming lunch.  Fine wine and great food are featured from our local vineyards and quaint farm stands. Yet Mr. Luce, in an attempt to fill his vacant barn with highly expensive suites that cater to Manhattan’s elite class, has been yet another civic association punching bag. According to a May 7, 2011, article entitled “Town code change would allow more rooms at the inn,” which appeared on RiverhealLocal.com, Phil Barbato and Dominique Mendez wrote, “What is the point of planning, codes and zoning if every time a business (or for that matter a resident) asks for an exception, they are given a variance or the code is changed.”

Again I find myself at a crossroads. Mr. Luce has a vacant barn on his property that he is looking to use for additional bedrooms to his lovely inn and, I might add, to aid as an offset to his $50,000 per annum property tax bill. Is it really necessary to drag this businessman, who creates jobs and industry for our town, through the mud for some obscure purpose? What disruption is this to the community?

While the concept of neighborhood civic associations appears noble, it seems as though they may have gone awry or that, I hate to say, there is some other agenda at hand. For while I am a conservative and favor business development and property rights, I also love the rural nature of our community and would certainly hate to see it vanish at the expense of massive commercial development. However, several of the proposals the Town of Riverhead is currently facing seem hardly unreasonable and, in fact, quite advantageous for the community. After all, what’s so bad about spending a romantic evening with your significant other at the Jedediah Hawkins Inn; enjoying fine wine and magnificent food, then waking up the next day to a gourmet breakfast? Perhaps you have a Saturday evening wedding at the glorious Inn and Spa at East Wind and decide to enjoy a fine Sunday lunch at one of the local “mom and pop” restaurants in the village, followed by a romantic afternoon at the vineyards.

We have much to offer to our neighbors “up west” and much to gain in the process. By all means, let’s not let that opportunity pass us by.

Mr. Mills is a member of the Riverhead Republican Committee and president of the Riverhead Republican Club. He lives in Wading River.

06/01/11 12:33pm
06/01/2011 12:33 PM

It’s hard to think of something more evocative of summer than one of our local farm stands. After all, Suffolk County ranks No. 1 in the market value of its crops. Suffolk also tops the list in the Empire State in terms of the number of acres dedicated to nurseries and sod production. Suffolk is even king when it comes to raising ducks.

Farms are also important to Long Island because, as our friends at the Long Island Farm Bureau put it, they also provide a buffer against suburban sprawl and maintain the traditional rural character of the East End while providing the landscape and scenic beauty that help promote tourism.

However, the days of the East End as a leading agricultural region may be numbered, unless we get serious about protecting farms here and around New York State.

Over 613,000 acres of New York farmland have been lost to development in a single decade, and now a farm disappears every three and a half days.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of farms in Suffolk County decreased by 10 percent between 2002 and 2007. While total farmland acreage has remained stable for now, smaller farms under 50 acres — the vast majority of all farms — are the ones most likely to be hurt by the effects of skyrocketing fuel costs.

We need to strengthen the safety net for Long Island’s farms before this situation gets any worse. That is why Albany needs to help protect farmers and promote New York State products by allowing for the sale of wine in grocery stores.

These issues may seem unconnected. However, New York League of Conservation Voters and our partners at the American Farmland Trust have persuaded lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate to include provisions in the recently submitted Wine Industry and Liquor Store Development Act to help New York’s farms and wineries at the same time. Let me explain.

New York State currently has a Farmland Protection Fund that gives grants to municipalities to purchase development rights from farmers. Farmers can then re-invest the funds to maintain their facilities, buy more land, upgrade their equipment and stay economically viable (rather than succumb to development pressure).

The Farmland Protection Fund, however, has been battered and bruised through years of budget cuts and now receives just over $10 million a year, a meager 6 percent of the estimated need.

Besides being underfunded, the Farmland Protection Fund has actually made promises it can’t keep. The fund has a backlog of $75 million and a long list of farms that were promised help but never received it. This list includes farms in Jamesport, Southold, Calverton, Shoreham and Riverhead.

If all of our farms are going to survive, we have to look to new, creative ways to protect them.

There has been talk about allowing the sale of wine in grocery stores for several years. But for the first time, this issue is being connected with helping our farms in three ways.

First, if the sale of wine in grocery stores is allowed, East End wineries can dramatically increase their market presence in the Empire State. That will strengthen Long Island’s $65 million viticulture industry and the 4,000 jobs it provides.

Second, by dedicating a percentage of the tax revenues from the sale of wine to farmland protection, the state can begin to clear the backlog of projects and honor future commitments.

Third, by protecting farms from development, we can retain the East End’s rural character and protect precious open space. As we all know, undeveloped land is critical for the environment because it protects our drinking water and provides wildlife habitat.

The economic stakes for the East End could not be higher. Suffolk County farms constitute a $201 million industry that employs thousands of people. By allowing the sale of wine in grocery stores today, our elected leaders in Albany can help keep this economic engine running for good.

Residents of the East End will also be able to continue to enjoy those amazing farm stands every summer, as will our children and our children’s children.

Ms. Bystryn is president of the New York League of Conservation Voters. She resides in Remsenberg.