A proposed settlement in a series of seven-year-old lawsuits challenging Riverhead Town’s master plan did not come up for a vote at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting, despite a developer’s threat to proceed with litigation if things weren’t settled by that date.
And now it may be too late.
Developer Charles Mancini told the News-Review after Tuesday’s meeting that his group will no longer consider a settlement and will proceed with the lawsuits.
“We’ve spent the better part of four years trying to reach a settlement,” he said. “We’ve tried to do whatever the town wanted us to do, but at every turn, it’s been the same thing, so we’re not going to waste time anymore.”
When asked why the proposed settlement wasn’t on the agenda, Supervisor Sean Walter, who favors the settlement, replied, “There doesn’t appear to be three votes.”
Mr. Walter has expressed concerns that if the town loses the lawsuit, its 2003 master plan and the zoning that resulted from it would be overturned, and the entire process would have to be redone.
Representatives of local civic and environmental organizations have urged the town to reject the settlement and defend its zoning.
The proposed settlement would allow Calverton Manor LLC to develop the property under the zoning criteria that existed before the master plan, with a campus-style complex that would include shops, courtyards and 40 apartments.
The two parcels that total about 41 acres are at the corner of Route 25 and Manor Road in Calverton. Under the settlement, just under half the property would be developed, Mr. Mancini told the Town Board last week, instead of the original plan to build over 35 1/2 acres.
At that public work session last Thursday, the settlement appeared to have four votes, with only Councilman Jim Wooten outwardly opposing it.
Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said her vote would be contingent on proof that then-town officials were stalling project, which Mr. Mancini and his lawyer had contended.
Sufficient proof was not satisfied as of Tuesday, Ms. Giglio said, adding she needed more time to research claims made by Mr. Mancini and his attorney, John Wagner, last week.
Councilman George Gabrielsen, who has supported the settlement, said he agreed to hold off on the vote out of respect for Ms. Giglio’s request for more time.
That was enough to prevent the issue from coming to a vote Tuesday.
Mr. Mancini and Vincent DiCanio had first proposed a 120,000-square-foot “big box” commercial development on the site in 2001, and then amended that in 2003 to show a smaller, “campus style” development with room for a facility like a YMCA.
But the 2003 master plan and the zoning adopted based on its recommendations changed the zoning on the property to allow less intense commercial development. Calverton Manor then filed a lawsuit challenging the rezoning in 2005.
Calverton Manor has actually filed five lawsuits challenging the town’s master plan and zoning.
Ms. Giglio said she wasn’t concerned about the developer’s threat of withdrawing the settlement because Calverton Manor still hadn’t responded to court papers from several weeks ago. She said she still planned to bring the settlement up for a vote at the next Town Board meeting in two weeks.
But that would be too late, according to Mr. Mancini.
“We always felt we have a pretty strong case,” Mr. Mancini said. “We really think the town made some dramatic errors in the master plan and I think that’s the reason the town had indicated they wanted to try and settle it. But we’ll let the courts decide now.”
The Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition and the Greater Calverton Civic Association have taken the position that the Riverhead Town Board should not agree to a proposed settlement with Calverton Manor, LLC that would result in reverting to zoning that contradicts recommendations of Riverhead’s 2003 master plan.
The master plan recommends the adoption of “rural corridor (RLC)” zoning along Route 25 east of Fresh Pond Avenue that would “reduce future expectations of development and market potential for retail and service uses along the [Route 25] corridor.”
RLC zoning that was subsequently adopted by the Riverhead Town Board provides for a “limited range of roadside shops and services that are compatible with the agricultural and rural setting along major arterial roads, such as … Route 25.” The proposed stipulation for settlement with Calverton Manor, LLC provides for reverting to prior Business Center (BC) zoning, which provides for development of much greater density and intensity than what is recommended in the town’s master plan.
The proposed settlement would allow for a footprint of up to 100,000 square feet for buildings and up to 40 “dwellings units.”
The North Fork Environmental Council supports the position taken by the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition and the Calverton Civic Association. It is the opinion of the NFEC that an agreement by the Riverhead Town Board to the proposed stipulation would significantly alter the rural character of the Route 25 corridor in Calverton and would undermine the integrity of the town’s master plan and the zoning that was subsequently adopted to conform with the master plan.
It is the position of Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter that the current RLC zoning is too restrictive and that the type of development proposed by Calverton Manor, LLC will increase the town’s tax base.
Mr. Walter is also of the opinion that if the town does not agree to the proposed settlement that the entire comprehensive master plan could be in jeopardy and may require a complete update. The North Fork Environmental Council disagrees.
Increasing the tax base in this manner also brings a great deal of cost in terms of supporting infrastructure and services — police, fire, etc. Such development in the name of increasing the tax base has been proved to increase property owners’ tax burdens, not decrease them, in every town to the west. In addition, such a change in zoning goes against both the word and the spirit of the master plan. It’s not perfect but its protections have well served the people of Riverhead. Any significant changes should not be undertaken without exhaustive research and discussion among all parties.
Because Mr. Walter has accepted significant amounts of campaign contributions from the principals of the Calverton Manor proposal, the NFEC recommends that, in order for the Riverhead Town Board to reach an objective and unbiased decision with respect to this matter, Mr. Walter should remove himself from any further deliberation or decision of the proposed settlement. Furthermore, the Riverhead Town Board should request from the town attorney’s office relevant case law that would help them reach a fair and deliberate decision.
Mr. Toedter is president of the North Fork Environmental Council, a Mattituck-based environmental advocacy group.