02/07/14 11:32am
02/07/2014 11:32 AM
Tim Gannon photo | Clearing at Knightland started this week

Tim Gannon photo | Clearing at Knightland started this week

Clearing has begun on the controversial Knightland project in Wading River, where 32,500 square feet of retail space and a 4,900 square foot restaurant are planned in 24 buildings. It will replace the former Village Beverage store at the corner of Sound Avenue and Route 25A.

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09/30/13 5:12pm
09/30/2013 5:12 PM
TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO  |  A model, presented in 2011, of the Knightland development planned for Wading River.

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | A model, presented in 2011, of the Knightland development planned for Wading River.

A state panel of judges upheld a ruling on Friday that will keep construction on a Wading River retail complex on hold – at least, for now.

The New York State Appellate panel ruled to allow a restraining order on building and excavation permits to stay in place while another appellate judge rules on an appeal of a lawsuit against Riverhead Town made by the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, said Dominique Mendez, president and co-founder of the local civic group.

The Knightland plan calls for 32,500 square feet of retail space and a 4,900-square-foot restaurant in a complex comprising 24 small buildings.

Knightland LLC received site plan approval from the Riverhead Planning Board in late 2011. Members of RNPC filed a lawsuit challenging that approval the following day, claiming the project didn’t comply with zoning and that the town failed to consider the cumulative impacts of the project along with other development proposals in the area.

The case was later thrown out of court after a judge ruled the group did not have the legal standing to sue the town.

The group has filed an appeal to revive the suit, arguing that they have legal standing and that their suit should be judged on its merits.

“We just think the courts should really weigh in on this and it shouldn’t just be the bulldozers that make the decision,” Ms. Mendez said.

The restraining order prevents the Town from issuing land clearing, excavation, or building permits for the site, essentially preventing the project from moving forward until a judge reaches a decision on their appeal.

“The last thing we need is more land to be cleared,” Ms. Mendez said. “It’s not so easy to put back the trees.”

Peter Danowski, who represents the owner of the Knightland property, Kenn Barra, did not immediately return a request for comment.

03/07/13 6:00pm
03/07/2013 6:00 PM
Sean Walter of Riverhead

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Supervisor Sean Walter at a Town Board meeting. A new rule banned booing at meetings.

Audience members at Riverhead Town Board meetings can no longer boo — and clapping almost went with it.

A last-minute change to a set of new rules and procedures for board meetings allowed clapping to continue in Town Hall, but banned booing. This came after the head of a local civic organization suggested the new rules infringed on free speech.

But the executive director of the state Committee on Open Government said the ban on booing — which is rare at town meetings — is within the board’s right.

“The town law says the board has the ability to adopt rules to govern its own proceedings,” said Bob Freeman, the committee’s longtime executive director who helped write much of the state’s open meetings and public information laws. “The rules have to be reasonable, but certainly they have the ability to establish rules that are designed to guarantee common courtesy and the avoidance of disruption.”

Mr. Freeman said that under state law, there is no requirement that boards even allow the public to speak at meetings, but when boards do allow it, they can adopt their own rules for doing so.

This issue of the booing ban came up at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting, where the town’s new rules were up for a vote.

“This says ‘no member of the public shall engage in any demonstration, booing, hand clapping or otherwise disrupt the formality of a Town Board meeting,’ ” said Dominique Mendez, the president of Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition. “I think that goes a little far, to restrict what is free expression and free speech.”

She recalled that there was clapping when the board approved money for preservation of the North Fork Preserve.

“I don’t think you objected to it,” she said.

Councilman George Gabrielsen said the hand-clapping ban could be taken out.

“It’s not a big deal,” he said.

Or is it?

“The problem we have is that for one speaker they clap, and then they clap after the next speaker, it’s a lot,” Councilman John Dunleavy said. “We’re trying to keep some order here.”

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said if people clap in favor of what a speaker is saying, other people may boo as a counter.

“We’re going to have booing and clapping at the same time,” she said. “It doesn’t provide for an orderly meeting.”

Supervisor Sean Walter said he’s OK with taking the clapping out.

Ms. Mendez said the definition of “demonstration” is too broad.

She said her group has had people come with signs written on letter-sized pieces of paper expressing their opinion on issues.

“Not everyone is comfortable coming up to the microphone,” she said, and simply bringing a message on a small sign allows them to express themselves.

Mr. Walter suggested that language be changed to “disruptive demonstration,” which board members agreed with.

Town officials say they aren’t familiar with too many examples of clapping or booing at board meetings.

Mr. Walter said he anticipates the board will take a “common sense” approach toward enforcing the new regulations.

“Three members of the board could decide to suspend these rules at any time,” he said.

The board approved the new rules, with the changes, by a 4-1 vote, with Councilman Jim Wooten casting the sole no vote.

The Town Board had been discussing the new rules for weeks at its work sessions prior to bringing it to a vote last Tuesday.

Most of the rules deal with the procedures for board members proposing and seconding resolutions, and how debate among board members should be handled.

Mr. Walter said the rules were largely taken from the upstate Town of Henrietta.

tgannon@timesreview.com

11/08/12 10:00am
11/08/2012 10:00 AM

TIM GANNON PHOTO | A lawsuit filed by the owners of the Calverton Manor property, pictured, could result in the town’s master plan being overthrown, Supervisor Sean Walter said.

Riverhead Town’s attorneys in a case challenging the town master plan are saying the town must readopt the master plan and all the zoning that resulted from the master plan’s recommendations, Supervisor Sean Walter said at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting.

His comments came in response to calls from civic leaders to drop a proposed settlement in a case involving the master plan and instead defend the master plan and zoning.

But Mr. Walter said the town’s attorneys believe there are flaws in the master plan and its adoption that would likely lead to the entire plan being overturned if the town tried to fight the case.

The town hired a consulting firm for $300,000 in 1998 to begin the first update of Riverhead’s master plan since 1972. The Town Board adopted the new master plan in 2003 and then adopted new zoning that the plan recommended in the two years after that.

Calverton Manor LLC, headed by developers Vincent DiCanio and Charles Mancini, sued after the town rezoned 35 acres the group owns on the northwest corner of Route 25 and Manor Road in Calverton, across from Splish Splash.

Prior to the zone change, Calverton Manor had proposed a 120,000-square-foot “big box” retail development for the property, but the new zoning would not permit a project that large.

The town is contemplating a settlement that would allow the property to be developed according to Business CR (Country Rural) zoning criteria that existed in 2004, rather than what was adopted in the new zoning following the master plan.

The proposed settlement would allow for up to 100,000 square feet of commercial and residential development on 20 acres by the road, while leaving 14 acres in the back undeveloped, officials said.

A maximum of 40 apartments would be permitted.

Town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz said there has been no court ruling against the town in this case, though Mr. Walter says the town’s attorney are pushing the settlement.

On Tuesday, Dominique Mendez and Phil Barbato of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition and Rex Farr of the Greater Calverton Civic Association urged the town fight for the master plan.

Mr. Barbato suggested it was the developers who have a weak case.

“Otherwise, they would have pursued their advantage in court and won by now,” he said. “This case is seven years old.”

Ms. Mendez said that the environmental consultant working for Calverton Manor in this case also works for the town, designing new zoning for EPCAL, which she said is a conflict of interest. The town should move to have consultant Theresa Elkowitz’s affidavit removed from the court case due to this conflict of interest, Ms. Mendez said.

“She cannot fairly represent the town while at the same time representing a property owner in litigation against the town,” Ms. Mendez said.

Ms. Elkowitz’s affidavit said there were “egregious deficiencies” in the town’s adoption of the master plan.

“She’s working on amending the master plan for EPCAL, but at the same firm charging the whole master plan should be thrown out,” Ms. Mendez said.

Town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz said that when the town hired Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (VHB), Ms. Elkowitz’s firm, to do the EPCAL study, they were asked to appear before the town ethics board to disclose what development projects in town were in the “hopper” that they were working on, and they were told Ms. Elkowitz couldn’t have any involvement in those new projects.

“Kind of bending over backwards so she could pursue that case against you,” Ms, Mendez said.

Ms. Mendez also pointed out that Mr. Elkowitz is a frequent campaign contributor to Mr. Walter, and Mr. Barbato said Calverton Manor’s principals, its law firm and its environmental consultant all contributed a total of about $5,000 to Mr. Walter’s campaign.

Mr. Barbato suggested that Mr. Walter should recuse himself on issues pertaining to this application.

“Do you have any idea on how people get elected or are you clueless on that point?,” Mr. Walter asked Mr. Barbato. “Do you have any idea how campaigns are funded? From the president right on down to town board members? If you did, you wouldn’t make that point. People donate to campaigns.”

He then asked Mr. Barbato to “wrap it up.”

Mr. Barbato said it gives the appearance of conflict to accept contributions from developers with applications before you.

“From president Barack Obama on down, campaigns are funded by donations,” Mr. Walter said. “That’s the way the country is, I didn’t make it that way.

“It’s all governed and there’s full disclosure.”

Ms. Mendez and Mr. Farr also said that the settling the Calverton Manor case would only set a precedent other developers would take advantage of, which they believe would result in “Route 58″ spreading west to Wading River.

Ms. Mendez said another developer with the same law firm as Calverton Manor is also challenging the master plan.

“You’re living in another world if you think if you don’t stand up to these settlements they’re going to stop,” Mr. Farr said. “They’re not going to stop.”

Mr. Walter said he plans to meet with town planning and building administrator Jefferson Murphree to discuss what it would take to readopt the master plan and all the zoning that resulted from it.

tgannon@timesreview.com

08/16/12 4:00am
08/16/2012 4:00 AM

WADING RIVER

This lawsuit is unreal

In last week’s issue of this paper, we all read that the owners of Great Rock golf course have filed a $25 million lawsuit against Riverhead Town. Of course, just because they filed a suit doesn’t mean their claims are valid. At the heart of this lawsuit is the assertion that the town maliciously attempted to deprive the Great Rock owners of their property rights. That’s baloney. It’s impossible to deprive someone of a right they don’t have in the first place. Fact is, Great Rock used up all their residential yield so they cannot build condos or golf villas and the catering hall is prohibited by zoning and covenants.
If that wasn’t the case, don’t you think all this would have been built already?
After all, we have what is arguably the most unabashedly pro-development Town Board in town history. Yet we’re supposed to believe the town has been maliciously conspiring to attack Great Rock’s property rights? C’mon.
Then there’s all the revisionist history in the suit. It calls the proposed catering hall a “mandated clubhouse expansion” and claims the “proposed structures conformed in all respects with the zoning ordinances” and that the owners had “vested property rights.” You just can’t make this stuff up; well, maybe you can.
But there’s an even bigger issue. Great Rock filed a Section 1983 action, which means that local government is only liable in damages when its official policy or custom was responsible for the plaintiff’s constitutional deprivation. That’s something this lawsuit does not even attempt to assert. That’s why I’m encouraged that this case will be dismissed once the town makes these and other deficiencies clear to the court. After all, that’s what happens to frivolous lawsuits.
I just hope they make quick work of it so we can just move on already. Enough’s enough!

Dominique Mendez
president, Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition

SMITHTOWN

Whatta league!

This was my first year involved with Hamptons Collegiate Baseball, with my son playing on Riverhead Tomcats. It was the experience of a lifetime. Not only was my son on the team, but we were fortunate enough to host a young man from Louisiana. This gave my son someone to drive back and forth with, since we live 45 minutes from the field, and someone to practice hitting with on those rare off days. They were able to share and blend together the coaching tips from the Northeast and the South. This benefited them both tremendously.
The league gave each player a gym membership for the summer. Here again, these young men shared their collective knowledge and all became bigger and stronger. Also, I could not believe all of the people who became host families when they did not even have a son on the team. I have never met such nice people on any previous league. The coaches, assistants, managers and administrators were all exceptional. This is a team that my son, my husband and myself will remember forever. Thank you, Hamptons Collegiate Baseball!

Diane Gorecki

LAUREL

Over the cliff

As Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan press for ever-lower taxes and massive spending cuts while praising entrepreneurialism and the beauty of ever-growing profit-making business unfettered by government and regulation, let’s look at the whole picture.
As the CEOs and financiers grab theirs and competitive pricing continues to be a part of the equation, wages and benefits become further depressed and economic inequality increases. Taxes are lowered, government expenditures are cut and government aid to the disadvantaged, the sick, the poor, the elderly and the unemployed is reduced.
Aid to those trying for college entrance is eliminated, government-financed infrastructure improvement ends and the United States slides further toward mediocrity. This is America’s decline, about to happen in our lifetime. Is this our America? Will we watch or will we act?
Follow the arguments, get mad and get out and vote. With Paul Ryan added to the ticket ,the Romney express will take us all right over the cliff.
Howard Meinke

NEW SUFFOLK

GOP in a nutshell

Romney and Ryan: The perfect embodiment of the 2012 Republican platform.
Solicitude for the rich, indifference to the middle class and contempt for the poor.

Stanley Brown

GREENPORT

What we’ve become

I’m coming into my 89th year. I’ve had a long, full life, supported by a democratic government that provided for the needs of the country and thrived on the creativity and industriousness of the people.
World War II was everyone’s war. The draft providing the armed forces, the government rationing foods, materiel and gas, Rosie the Riveter and many others, working in the factories, growing vegetable gardens, knitting warm socks and baking cookies to send to the troops, volunteers acting as community wardens. Sharing the news and the terrible lists of the dead and the missing.
After the war, the G.I. Bill sent the men to college and they came out as scientists, engineers, researchers, innovators, and entrepreneurs. They propelled the U.S. into an age of economic growth and national dominance. Social Security, to protect the elderly from destitution, Medicare to protect the ill from bankruptcy because of medical expenses. the Civil Rights Movement and later, the Women’s Movement, bringing us closer to becoming “the land of the free.”
Not only a long life, but a grateful one. I am not afraid of dying. But I am dreadfully worried for my children and grandchildren and yours. We are no longer a democracy, providing for the needs of the people, the infrastructure of the country, or all levels of education to build for the future. We have become a corporate oligarchic state, governed in their financial interests, like the Third World countries we used to disdain.
This government cuts food stamps when more people are in need, cuts food and health programs for children, denies money for states to provide teachers and firemen. Wants to cut Social Security benefits and turn Medicare into for-profit enterprises.
Having exploited our natural resources to fill their coffers, they have not put any of their profits back into restoring the land or repaying the workers.
It’s no longer the America I lived in, thrived in and was proud of. I pray that the decent people who are working courageously to bring back our democracy will succeed.
I pray that my children and grandchildren and yours will be able to lead decent and satisfying lives, supported by the essential and humane programs that all other industrial, advanced nations provide.

Merle Levine

02/02/12 5:00am
02/02/2012 5:00 AM

Choose your battles.

The Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition founders — and its member groups — should heed this advice.

From all projects recently proposed for Wading River to an expanded R&K Precision Autoworks on Sound Avenue in Northville to basically anything that ever happens at the Jamesport Manor Inn or Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport, there’s nothing RNPC founders Dominique Mendez and Phil Barbato don’t seem to oppose. Up to now, when they speak, people seem to listen. But eventually, people will start tuning out. And that will only hurt their admirable efforts as watchdogs and whistle-blowers against sometimes ill-informed or what could be downright corrupt town boards or greedy developers. They even help keep this newspaper informed of ongoing or upcoming matters that deserve coverage — and scrutiny.

But if RNPC is screaming all the time, how are Riverhead residents to know when their way of life is truly threatened?

A few decisions made recently by various town government boards are, to put it simply, not that big a deal. One example would be the Planning Board’s December approval of a breezeway at the Jedediah Hawkins Inn, which would ultimately allow the creation of eight guest rooms in an existing barn on its land. Inn officials have said their operation — which consists of a restaurant and six rooms in the main building — needs the additional guest rooms to stay in business. That’s eight rooms — at most an additional 16 to 20 people staying at the property at any given time. And these wouldn’t be bachelor-party types; we’re talking about well-heeled people, couples mostly, visiting the North Fork and helping our local economy.

Why fight this? The Jedediah Hawkins Inn won’t ever become a massive complex like East Wind; plain and simple. The property’s size just doesn’t allow for it.

Point-by-point, RNPC leaders and its more outspoken members could win a lot of arguments, but that doesn’t mean they should be making all the arguments, most of which are grounded in dire, slippery-slope warnings that small concessions by town boards here and there will ultimately turn the North Fork into North Hempstead. It’s a fair point, and worth making, but in some situations it just sounds like hyperbole — and an excuse to oppose every small concession when it comes to town officials working with the business sector.

There are times when communities need some person or group to grab that megaphone and rally the troops, as the Aquebogue Civic Association did when the Riverhead School District wanted to build a bus barn and YMCA on farmland on the rural/residential Tuthills Lane. The civic won this fight, in part because their neighbors came to realize such a facility could change their quiet farming community forever. But an expanded Precision Autoworks is no YMCA and bus barn; it’s a successful local business making a reasonable request of the town to expand in the same place its customers are accustomed to going.

Thus far, the RNPC has been a positive force in Riverhead. Just look at its recent effort in successfully demanding public workshops as part of the ongoing Route 25A corridor study. Just such a public meeting is now scheduled for this Saturday in Wading River. The group has the allies and means to wield a loud megaphone. But, please, for everyone’s own good, keep it behind glass — for real emergencies.

01/20/12 9:30am
01/20/2012 9:30 AM

Representatives of several civic associations in Riverhead Town told the Town Board Wednesday that the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition does in fact represent their organizations, and that they’d like the town to put the acrimony between some officials and RNPC behind them for the new year.

Georgette Keller, president of the Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Associaiton, read a letter to the Town Board at the Wednesday Town Board meeting, and asked representatives of other civic associations present at the meeting to stand up and confirm that RNPC speaks for their interests.

In recent months, Supervisor Sean Walter has criticized RNPC as being a “special interest group” that doesn’t represent as many people as they claim. The supervisor also accused RNPC of being involved with a Democratic campaign mailer criticizing him in November, a charge RNPC denies.

RNPC is a group that tries to link the efforts of various civic organizations in town.

“I just really feel it’s time for us to clear the slate and move forward with the spirit of a new year,” Ms. Keller said. She then asked Linda Nemeth and Bill Ceberek of the Greater Calverton Civic Association, Eric Biegler of the Sound Park Heights Civic Association, Sid Bail of the Wading River Civic Association, and Angela DeVito of the Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association to stand up and confirm that they support the letter she was about to read.

The letter is also signed by the presidents of those civic groups.

Ms. Keller said RNPC acts as an “umbrella” for the civic associations, and has provided an “invaluable service” to them, because they are able to have representatives at town meetings that can provide reports back to the various civic groups.

The letter, in its entirety, read as follows:

“The Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition is a unified group of civic associations and individual residents in the Town of Riverhead.

“The RNPC was established for the purpose of giving voice to our neighbors who wish to preserve the rural character, environmental quality and agricultural lifestyle of the town. We believe that from many years our local government has consistently enabled development and land uses that do not conform with good planning or reasonable readings of town codes and property restrictions.

“The RNPC fosters and supports sound land-use planning, environmental protection, and cultural preservation and code enforcement.

“Although there have been signed for town officials understand that this is a point of view worthy of serious consideration, town wall needs to be more attentive to the express needs and opinions of residence and civic associations with respect to these matters.

“Furthermore, recent inaccurate statements about the RNPC concerning its legitimacy, membership, and objectives as well as recent statements characterizing civic groups as special interest groups, cannot go unanswered.

“We, the undersigned civic associations of the town of Riverhead, wish to affirm that we not only represents residents in our own respective communities and maintain our own identities as civic and homeowners associations, but that we are also joined together as members of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition and support its goals and objectives.

“We do not appreciate mischaracterization of our coalition. We look forward to continuing to work with the town board, planning board, zoning board of appeals, industrial development agency, and town departments to meet the needs of present and future residents, and businesses and farms of this town, by faithfully adhering to the intent of our approved land-use plan, to reasonable readings of our town code, to state environmental and municipal laws and to sound land-use practices.”

It was signed by Georgette Keller, president of the Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association; Rex Farr, the president of the Greater Calverton Civic Association; Eric Biegel, president of Sound Park Heights Civic Association; Sid Bail, president of the Wading River Civic Association, and  RNPC co-founders Phil Barbato and Dominique Mendez.

“It’s time for a clean slate and for cooler heads to prevail,” Ms. Keller said after reading the letter.

“I agree,” Mr. Walter said.

tgannon@timesreview.com

08/03/11 11:34am
08/03/2011 11:34 AM

When it came to opposing a proposed shopping center on the corner of Park Road and Sound Avenue, members of the Sound Park Heights Civic Association in Reeves Park stood side by side with members of townwide environmental and civic groups like the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition and the North Fork Environmental Council.

But on the subject of whether Rich Vlacci’s R&K Precision Autoworks on Sound Avenue should be granted a special permit to double the size of that business, they broke ranks during a Town Board public hearing Tuesday.

Residents Mike Foley and Dorothy O’Haire, both vocal opponents of developer Kenn Barra’s proposed shopping center, both of whom said they were founding members of the Sound Park Heights Civic Association, urged the Town Board to grant a special permit to R&K.

Mr. Foley, who is also an RNPC member, said he’s gone to R&K about a dozen times for car repairs over the years.

“Each time, I’ve gotten an honest and fair price and excellent work,” he said. “Everyone in Reeves Park will tell you, he’s always there for the community.”

He said Mr. Vlacci always cleans up his shop area at the end of the day and complies with town codes.

Mr. Foley said that when environmental groups “don’t make exceptions for people who do the right thing, then we lose credibility as groups.”

“If ever there were a site plan that should be approved, it’s this one,” Ms. O’Haire said. The proposed expansion looks more residential and fits in better with the area than what’s there now, she said.

Sound Park Heights Civic Association president Eric Biegler said the association supports Mr. Vlacci’s proposed expansion.
Former councilman George Bartunek, who is an NFEC vice president, said R&K is seeking to expand a use that doesn’t comply with its zoning.

“Over the years, nonconforming uses should lapse,” he said. “A 100 percent expansion of a nonconforming use is a terrible precedent.”

Dominique Mendez of RNPC said the fact that Mr. Vlacci does good work and is a nice man “doesn’t change the fact that he’s asking for a 100 percent expansion of a nonconforming use on Sound Avenue.” She said an expansion that big is too big, and that her group seeks to protect Sound Avenue against over-commercialization.

Jim DeLuca, a representative for Mr. Vlacci, said the building has been used commercially since 1954 and has been owned by R&K since 1986.

He said Mr. Vlacci’s reputation for restoring cars is such that the television show “Pawn Stars” on Friday filmed an episode featuring his work.

Mr. Vlacci said he’s “sworn to secrecy” about the content of the show until it airs.

tgannon@timesreview.com