A state Supreme Court Judge dismissed a lawsuit last week filed by Town Assessor Mason Haas, which sought to overturn a town law enacted earlier this summer that prevented a political party chairman from also holding elective office. READ
Riverhead Town officials are considering taking legal action against the owners of the Glass Greenhouse for illegally operating its newly built Farm Market, a 5,000-square foot, two-story building that features a full kitchen, office space, high ceilings with exposed beams, and an elevator.
A resolution discussed at Thursday’s town board work session, expected to be voted on next Tuesday, states that members have determined the property — located at 1350 Main Road in Jamesport — is in violation of various sections of the town and state code.
The Farm Market, which opened in October and held a grand opening two weeks ago, is currently operating with out a valid certificate of occupancy and outside of the town’s regulations for an agriculture operation, according to Supervisor Sean Walter.
“As much as some people want to believe it meets the town’s zoning, it doesn’t,” Mr. Walter said. “It doesn’t have site plan approval now and I don’t suspect it will get it, since it is not up to code.”
The Glass Greenhouse, which is owned and operated by Walter and Edith Gabrielsen, previously only sold plants and flowers. Three years ago they decided to expand to include a farmers market to sell a variety of fresh and prepackaged foods, manager Amanda Putnam told the Riverhead News-Review in October.
However, much of the products are shipped in from Vermont, Massachusetts and upstate New York, Ms. Putnam said. Moreover, less than 40 percent of the products are made using ingredients grown on site — a direct violation of town code, Mr. Walter said.
The decision to seek legal action against the Gabrielsens wasn’t done with haste, the supervisor said. Walter Gabrielsen’s brother, Councilman George Gabrielsen, said he has recused himself from the matter.
While the site plan has yet to be approved by the town or planning boards, the market was granted a temporary two-month-long certificate of occupancy on Oct. 4, Mr. Walter said.
Without site plan approval from the town, the market opened its doors after receiving a food-processing license from the state Agriculture & Markets Committee on Oct. 11.
Since, Mr. Walter said he has been attempting to contact both the Agriculture & Markets Committee and Farm Bureau president Joe Gergela to determine the town’s next course of action.
When the town’s temporary certificate of occupancy expired on Dec. 4, Mr. Walter said the town still didn’t have a clear plan on how to address the violations.
“It is really not agricultural production,” Councilman James Wooten said in a phone interview Thursday. “When you walk in there, you open your eyes and it’s like a King Kullen. That doesn’t quite make sense to me.”
This is not the first time the town has taken legal action against a business believed to be operating outside town code.
Similarly, in 2010, Riverhead Town took owners of the former A Taste of Country in Northville to court, claiming that its certificate of occupancy is for a farm stand, and that serving hot and cold food — which the business was doing at the time — was not permitted on the site.
Following a two-year court battle, a state Supreme Court judge ruled in favor of the town, according to an October 2012 Riverhead News-Review article.
To bring their operation into compliance, the owners are hoping to expand their business for a second time within the next six months, Mr. Wooten said Thursday. Discussions with the owners revealed the plan to create about 2,800 additional square feet in order to accommodate and sell more products being processed on site, Mr. Wooten said.
“For the most part we want to work with them,” Mr. Wooten said. “We want to encourage agritourism, but it has to comply with our town code.”
Walter Gabrielsen declined to comment on the resolution.
“I can’t get involved with that,” he said Thursday.
The Town Board is expected to decide if it will take legal action during its next regular session on Tuesday, Dec. 17 at 7 p.m.
They’re worried. Yesterday, Councilman Jim Wooten sounded retreat and the Old Guard Republicans started circling the wagons because they are worried.
They are worried it might be closing time for their clubhouse.
I came to the race for Town Council vowing to shake up Town Hall and it seems there is a whole lot of shaking going on. Harry Truman said, “I never gave ’em Hell, I told the truth and they thought it was Hell,” and that’s what’s happening here in Riverhead.
I have dared speak the truth about public officials that care more about their pensions than the public good. I have dared speak out about the constant cost overruns that are a result of Town Board mismanagement. I have dared speak out about council members that are rarely at their desks. I have dared speak out about tax breaks that are given out to the Republican Party’s friends and family network but not to you. I’ve called for term limits and for reforms to keep politics out of Town Hall. I have called for full disclosure and I’ve offered a positive plan to get this town moving forward.
You see folks, it’s all about jobs. Oh, not your job, it’s about theirs and their ability to live off the system. Councilman James Wooten is not happy that I was honest with the public when I spoke out about the odd jobs he holds in addition to the municipal pension he receives and his salary as a councilman. Councilwoman Jodi Giglio was not happy when it was uncovered that she has had avoided paying her proper property taxes for over a decade, because she failed to get permits for her home — though she owns a permit expediting business that represents developers.
Ms. Giglio was not happy when it came to light that she and her partners received every tax break under the sun and $2.4 million in taxpayer money for their subsidized housing project downtown. Those are the facts and I didn’t report them, this newspaper did. The council members didn’t like that I put a video on YouTube showing them not in their offices. The recreation department head was not happy when I made an issue of the fact that he presided over huge cost overruns at the Calverton ball fields and still got an $8,000 raise.
Mr. Wooten calls that, “Negative” I call it telling the truth.
Truth brings reform and reform worries the Old Guard because they fear change. The tired Clubhouse knows I am a reform candidate that means what he says, that I won’t take “no” for an answer and they are worried I will win; they wouldn’t be attacking me if my message were not getting through.
When I go door-to-door, I see that people are wising up to the fact that the “in” crowd at Town Hall has had it their way for about 50 years and their legacy is that Riverhead is the highest taxed, poorest and most indebted town on the East End. This town can do better.
The Old Guard sees power slipping out of the grasp of their cynical fingers and they are worried. I was the Town Board’s pal when I ran their campaigns for 10 years. I was the Town Board’s pal when they unanimously appointed me to the BID board, but now that I have spoken out about their attitude of entitlement and how they milk the system, I am a bad man and they have called me names.
I have been and I will continue to be your watchdog. I have no interest in being part of their club. They can threaten me, call me names, yell, scream, stomp their feet and hold their breath but I don’t care because I have vowed to run a different type of campaign and I am.
I’m not in it for the salary, as they are. I’m not in it for the title, as they are. I am about public service, not self service.
I am in it to represent you and they are worried because they know their time is just about up.
Mr. Coates is a downtown resident and financial adviser who is running a Republican primary for a Town Council nomination.
I have sat back and watched and listened to all the obvious political hand wringing and bullet points presented throughout this primary season.
I will say never in my life, much less my political one have I seen such dirty politics, name calling, character assassinations and blatant bully tactics.
One can only hope and vote for the people that best represent them in the community, especially in a local town such as Riverhead. This new shade of western politics has no place in our community. I have seen and listened to once committed and dedicated community leaders get caught up in the frenzy, all of a sudden there is an axe to grind with heads to roll.
It’s just plain dirty politics.
This current Town Board has worked very closely with all the different entities that make up Riverhead Town, and with noticeable results. This board has dealt with the problems facing the future of our Town, and has been working to move forward.
What really irks me is all the attention being afforded to one political strategist, Anthony Coates, who from the time he arrived in our community has created a cloud of darkness and controversy. This is a man who couldn’t give a satisfactory answer to the first question posed to him at Monday evening’s debate regarding what he’s been doing the last five years to earn a living.
He only provided a very artful dodge to the question. Yet, he was quoted in a News-Review opinion piece as having earned “oodles of money” some years back.
It seems to me to be more like noodles of money.
Over the years we have been subjected to double headed llamas, the destruction of a Republican campaign for supervisor in 2005 and most recently, a public dismissal of his own candidate for county Legislator as a shoe he could longer shine.
How can we support a candidate whose allegiance is so fickle? It’s sad, really; I know there has to be a person in there somewhere. When your whole life is built around political maneuvering it’s easy to get caught up and actually believe the rhetoric you spew.
This town has changed a lot in the last 10 years, despite its growth I sincerely hope that it never loses its charm and hometown atmosphere.
Narcissistic political advisers and animated buffoonery are not the face of Riverhead, at least not where I sit.
I can name at least 10 civic and community leaders who are far better qualified and deserving to represent the town in government, who truly have the ability and proven desire through actions already displayed, not just talked about.
Mr. Coates isn’t even close on any list, except his own. Please don’t get caught up in the hype, this town is moving forward and the team in place has set a good course for the future, lets not muddy the waters with just plain unadulterated politics at its worst.
James Wooten is a retired Riverhead Town police officer and Republican town councilman currently in his second term in office.
There will be a crowded field of people seeking the Republican nomination for town supervisor, as town assessor Mason Haas and Councilman James Wooten are screening this week to take incumbent Supervisor Sean Walter’s job.
Mr. Walter is also still seeking his job.
The Riverhead Republican Committee will be screening candidates for town offices at the Hyatt hotel on East Main Street Wednesday night in advance of this fall’s town elections, said Republican chairman John Galla.
Mr. Galla said Calverton resident and frequent office-seeker Greg Fischer asked to screen as well, though Mr. Fischer on Monday said in a press release he wasn’t sure whether he wanted a supervisor or Town Council seat.
Mr. Wooten had screened for supervisor two years ago before instead agreeing to seek re-election to his council seat. He said in March that he would again screen for supervisor this year.
Mr. Haas has been a town assessor since 2008 and has a background in real estate title research. He’s also a member of the Jamesport Fire Department and a former Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps chief.
He’s been active in leading the fight against the county’s placement of trailers for homeless sex offenders on the East End.
Both Mr. Haas and Mr. Wooten said they agree with Mr. Walter on many of the issues he is working on, but believe the ways he goes about things needs work.
“At times, I think a different approach might be necessary,” Mr. Haas said. “I’ve told Sean, I like what he’s doing, but I would approach it differently so that there’s not all this fighting.”
Mr. Wooten’s comments were similar.
“It’s not that Sean and I are that different when it comes to the goals we set for the town, but I think it comes down to management style and approachability,” Mr. Wooten said.
Mr. Wooten blames much of the Town Board’s divisiveness on Mr. Walter.
In seeking office, Mr. Fischer said in the release he “is pushing for issues such as having elected LIPA trustees, and for the creation of a Suffolk County inspector general,” among other things.
Mr. Walter does not see the competition from within his own party as a good thing.
“It’s unfortunate,” Mr. Walter said, “because I feel like the Republican Committee hung a ‘help wanted’ sign on the door to the supervisor’s office, and they don’t usually do that when the incumbent is from their own party.”
He said he plans to run on his record and he run a primary if he doesn’t get the party’s nomination.
Ms. Haas said he will not run a primary and Mr. Wooten said he has not made that decision yet.
“I don’t think anyone can really say that the town is not better off now than it was four years ago,” Mr. Walter said, pointing to “a downtown that’s thriving,” the privatization of the town animal shelter, the opening of the Suffolk Theater and the fact that the EPCAL subdivision is nearing completion.
“On all fronts, the town is better off now than it was four years ago.” he said. “All of this is about personalities. But I defy anyone to find an effective leader that pleases 100 percent of the people 100 percent of the time. It can’t happen or else you’re not an effective leader.
“Judge me on how effective I’ve been as a leader.”
Mr. Walter said the only ones who benefit from the Republican infighting are the Democrats.
“It should never have gotten to this stage,” he said.
Mr. Galla said all potential candidates for town office deserve credit.
“I salute anybody who puts their name forward,” Mr. Galla said. “I still think elected office is a high calling and I salute the people that have stepped forward. It’s not an east thing to do, to have your whole life scrutinized.”
In addition to the supervisor’s seat, there will be a challenge to the Town Council incumbents as well, Mr. Galla said.
Incumbents Jodi Giglio and John Dunleavy are each seeking re-election, and downtown resident Anthony Coates also had made no secret of his plans to run for a council seat on the Republican line. Mr. Coates, who has been a political adviser to Mr. Walter, changed his registration from Democrat to Republican last year in anticipation of running for council as a Republican this year.
Mr. Galla said that this year, the Republicans will have candidates screen before the entire committee, whereas in past years, the committee appointed a screening committee with about 10 people who screened the candidates and then made a recommendation to the full committee.
The committee will likely announce its candidates sometime next month, but that date hasn’t been set yet, Mr. Galla said.
There was one other candidate who expressed interest in seeking a Town Board seat, according to Mr. Galla, who said he was unable to reach that person to see if he or she was still interested in screening or if they wanted it made public that they were screening.
Former Riverhead school board president Angela DeVito has thrown her hat in the ring for the Democratic nomination for Riverhead supervisor.
She’s not the only one seeking to challenge incumbent Republican Supervisor Sean Walter.
Incumbent Republican Councilman James Wooten told the News-Review this week he plans to screen for the Republican nomination for supervisor against Mr. Walter, who will be running for a third two-year term this year.
“I do plan to screen for supervisor,” Mr. Wooten said.
Beyond that, he said, it would be up to what the Riverhead Republican Committee and the people want, adding he wouldn’t rule out a primary if he was not chosen by the committee as its supervisor candidate.
Ms. DeVito announced she’d be running for supervisor through news website RiverheadLocal.com.
“I looked at the current Town Board and its administration and I truly believe our town deserves a lot better,” Ms. DeVito told the News-Review after confirming the earlier press report. “I have many, many years of public sector service that I think will serve the citizens of this town better. I know how to work across the aisle, as they like to say, and get people to work with me. Not on everything, but I do get things done.”
Ms. DeVito says she’s thought about running for town office in the past but time constraints didn’t allow for it, as she had a full-time job and she had to look after her aging mother as well.
She has since retired from her position as Director of Workforce Development with the Long Island Building Trades Council and says she has more time now.
Asked specifically about Mr. Walter, who has been elected to two two-year terms, Mr. DeVito said, “Given the personalities and ambitions of the Town Board he had to work with, he hasn’t shown the leadership to step up and put that aside. It may just be that they are difficult to work with. They all want his job. It’s like a feeding frenzy.
“They can’t wait to diss each other.”
Ms. DeVito has been a member of the Riverhead Democratic Committee since 2005 and this year is a member of its executive board. She has told town Democratic leader Marge Acevedo of her desire to run for supervisor, and said she also will seek the Independence and Working Families lines.
The Working Families party traditionally backs Democratics, but the Independence party has backed both Republican and Democratic candidates in recent years.
Ms. DeVito said she will have to screen for the position, despite her familiarity with committee members already.
In addition to working with the Building Trades Council, Ms. DeVito also has worked as a director of Occupational Health and Safety for the state Public Employees Federation, and was associate director for the Long Island Occupational and Environmental Health Program at Stony Brook University.
Locally, she served on the Riverhead school board from 2006 to 2011 and was board president in the 2009-10 school year. She’s been active in the Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association since 2002 and served as its president for several years as well.
Having served the public, while also working on the side of civics dealing with public boards, Ms. DeVito says it’s important that officials listen to the public and encourage public input, something she believs the current Town Board doesn’t always do, as some officials have referred to civic groups as “NIMBYs.” (Not in My Back Yard)
Asked why he plans to screen for supervisor, Mr. Wooten said, “I think I have a good handle on how government works and I have the ability to coordinate different groups and bring the community back to the table in order to gain consensus.”
He said he thinks that process, seems to be sometimes “contentious” now.
A retired town police officer, Mr. Wooten also screened for supervisor against Mr. Walter in 2011, but eventually dropped that bid and ran for his council seat, allowing Mr. Walter to go uncontested for the Republican supervisor nomination.
Mr. Wooten’s council seat is not up for reelection this fall.
Reached for comment on the potential candidates for the supervisor job, Mr. Walter said, “I like Angela DeVito. We have a good working relationship and she’s a very smart woman.”
As for Mr. Wooten running?
“I’m not surprised,” Mr. Walter said. “I’m running. I’ll be seeking the Conservative and Independence party lines as well as the Republican line, and if I’m not nominated by the Republican committee, I will run a primary. So, I’m running either way. My fate as town supervisor should be left to the voters of the town.”
Mr. Walter said what’s happening in Riverhead happens everywhere.
“I was at the Association of Towns convention recently and in talking to supervisors from other towns, they all have the same thing. Every Town Board member wants to be supervisor, every senator wants to be president, ever state senator wants to be governor. It’s the way it is, and it’s part of the job.”
Riverhead Republican Committee chairman John Galla said its still early in the process, as screenings aren’t usually held until April, but he said so far, Mr. Walter is the only person to formally request his party’s nomination for supervisor.
The screening process is open to everyone, he said, adding he will look forward to running a campaign against whomever the Democrats nominate.
Mr. Walter said that he fears if he is not reelected, the work he has accomplished at the Enterprise Park at Calverton and the subdivision being developed there could be undone by a different administration.
He said that the EPCAL subdivision will not be finished before his current term ends at the end of this year, and that he needs to be reelected to push that process forward so the town can start selling its land in Calverton and bringing in businesses and jobs.
In order to set the record straight and clear up any confusion with regard to the budget process, let us present the following timeline and information.
Town Board members saw a PowerPoint presentation of the supervisor’s tentative budget on Sept. 28. At the Oct. 2 Town Board meeting, the tentative budget was introduced and presented to the public and at this same meeting a resolution to authorize a Nov. 7 public hearing for the adoption of the preliminary budget was presented to Town Board members.
The Town Board did not have an opportunity to discuss budget matters with department heads or even review the budget until after the tentative budget was presented to the public.
The same day it was presented to the public it was presented to the members of the Town Board. We are working together now, as your representatives and as liaisons to various departments and advisory groups, to review what was presented to us so that we may be able to continue to provide the level of services to meet the needs of our residents.
We did not know what positions, if any, were being eliminated and we were not asked what projects were important to us so we could be included in the budget process.
Town Board members have been diligently working with department heads and staff to get a clear understanding of what is necessary to accomplish the basic needs of town government. There were delays in these meetings due to the hurricane and availability of information.
We have agreed on much and will be approaching the amendments to the supervisor’s budget in a unique way this year: Each change to the budget will be a separate resolution so that each board member can vote on the amendments that are important to each member and so that the public knows where each board member stands.
In Southampton Town, the supervisor set dates for open meetings with the board to discuss budget amendments. Resolution 2012-927 sets the dates for these discussions. In Southold, as reported by Times/Review Newsgroup, the budget was presented to the Town Board at the Sept. 11 work session, prior to formal presentation and filing of the tentative budget.
In Southampton and Southold, the town boards are still considering amendments to the budgets that were presented to the public and anticipate more changes before Final Budgets are adopted on Nov. 20.
The Riverhead Town Board would like to see amendments to the preliminary budget. After review of the tentative budget, the members of the Town Board met with department heads to determine their budget needs and discuss possible cost saving measures but scrutinized figures and calculations in the tentative budget.
The Town Board found significant errors in the budget and met with the financial administrator several times to address these errors. The Town Board will continue to scrutinize the budget, work to correct each error and ask questions of the financial administrator and department heads to make sure that the final budget is accurate and best meets the needs of town government and serves the people of this town.
We are proposing a public work session to discuss any amendments.
The authors are three councilpeople who help make up the five-member Riverhead Town Board.
The Riverhead Industrial Development Agency unanimously approved a request for tax breaks by the owners of the Suffolk Theater Monday evening.
Members of the IDA board said the tax breaks requested — a property tax exemption and sales tax exemption for purchasing equipment and supplies to complete the theater’s renovation — will be recouped by the additional sales tax generated when the theater opens.
The property tax break is a 10-year abatement that has the owners of the theater, Bob and Dianne Castaldi, pay the land value of the property while abating the payments on the improved accessed value of the property, said board general counsel Richard Ehlers.
Town assessors estimate the value of the property will go up from $62,000 to $426,700 after the renovations, Mr. Ehlers said, adding that tax abatements will not lower the tax base.
The property tax breaks amount to about $49,000 assuming current tax rates, he said. The sales tax exemption would only apply to construction equipment purchases and would total about $48,000, Mr. Ehlers said.
The Castaldis purchased the theater from the town in 2005; the building at the time “was pretty much as mess,” Mr. Castaldi said during the public comment section of a public hearing held before the vote.
Unforeseen issues in the renovations have caused the cost of the repairs to jump higher than expected, he said. Mr. Castaldi could not provide an exact cost of the renovations so far, but said the number is “in the millions.” The IDA cites the remaining project cost as being about $1.58 million.
Mr. Castaldi said he didn’t come to the board sooner for assistance because he didn’t think it would be necessary.
The theater still needs to have air conditioning installed, which is holding up the duct work that needs to be done. Without the ducts, the kitchen and basement are being delayed, and the fire marshall will not give the building a certificate of occupancy, Mr. Castaldi said.
Last month, the theater held a conference for business owners and artists called “Arts Mean Business” while the theater lacked a CO. They were issued a violation and fined by the town as a result.
Mr. Castaldi said they are “diligently trying” to open the theater by the end of December, though he said it could possibly open later. He told the board the theater would definitely be open by spring 2013.
The only other person to speak at the public hearing was Councilman James Wooten, who said that while he supports the Castaldis and believes the theater will be a success, he has concerns about “balancing” the tax breaks allotted to businesses.
Instead of a 10-year abatement, Mr. Wooten suggested a 5-year plan with a “sliding scale.” Board members said that Mr. Castaldi may not be profitable after the first 5 years, and said the Castaldis’ savings will be repaid when the theater brings other business to downtown.
“Downtown has been an eyesore for a long time and we need to do something to get another anchor down there to help downtown get better,” said board member Lou Kalogeras. “It’s not a lot of money.”