BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO A field of pumpkins at Lewin's Farm on Route 25a in Wading River in the fall. A group has launched a 'Save Wading RIver' campaign fearing four proposed development projects will forever alter the hamlet's character.
The battle over four development projects in Wading River is heating up.
In the same week county officials announced plans toward a possible purchase of one of the four properties slated for commercial development, a civic group announced a letter writing blitz against further development. And an attorney for that same civic organization issued a legal opinion that Riverhead Town can declare a moratorium on development while it examines its zoning of the area.
The development concerns center around four large commercial projects: the 52,000-square-foot Central Square project from developer John Zoumas on Route 25A next to CVS; the 32,000-square-foot Knightland project from developer Kenn Barra at the intersection of Route 25A and Sound Avenue; the 42,000-square-foot Venezia Square project from Joseph Vento and James Tsunis on Route 25A between McDonald’s and the funeral home; and the 7,200-square-foot expansion of the clubhouse at Great Rock, just north of Sound Avenue.
On Thursday, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter and County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) held a press event to announce a proposal to have Suffolk County consider purchasing Mr. Zoumas’s property through the county’s “hamlet parks” program, which preserves properties located in or near downtown areas for preservation.
The Zoumas property had been under consideration for county acquisition about three years ago, when it was being looked at as a possible location for a new Shoreham Little League field. That effort stalled when an agreement with a non-profit to build ball fields could not be reached, according to Mr. Walter.
“Whether the acquisition happens or not obviously depends on the appraisals,” Mr. Walter said. “But this would be a great acquisition. There’s certain strategic places within the town that we need to acquire and this one makes sense. We don’t want us to look like Brookhaven. We don’t want it to look like [the portion of Route 25A where] you can’t tell where Port Jefferson starts and Shoreham ends.”
Meanwhile, the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, a non-profit group that seeks to link all the civic organizations townwide, announced this week that it would be launching a letter-writing campaign to residents as part of its “Save Wading River” movement.
“The letters ask residents to become informed about the threat to Wading River’s community character, communicate with Town Board members and support RNPC’s legal and legislative strategy,” a press release from RNPC president Dominique Mendez said. “The group wants the Riverhead Town Board to halt the proposed projects until a study of their cumulative impacts on Wading River is completed — something they believe can be done in less than a year.”
“We must hold the Town Board accountable for the health of our community,” Ms. Mendez said in the release. “Over-development will produce empty storefronts such as those in downtown Riverhead. That, in turn, will reduce property values and completely undermine the quality-of-life we all came to Wading River to enjoy.”
The group also has unveiled a new web site, www.savewadingriver.com.
The group’s attorney, Regina Seltzer, also issued a legal opinion that the town can legally declare a moratorium on development along Route 25A in Wading River while it re-studies the area’s zoning.
Ms. Seltzer’s memorandum states: “What is clear from the cases on moratoria is that as long as the municipality acts for a legitimate purpose and does not act in bad faith, a moratorium is an acceptable planning tool.”
Mr. Walter said he already knew the town can declare a moratorium but added, “It’s not enough to just demand a moratorium. You have to come up with a solution. I appreciate Ms. Seltzer’s letter, and I know we can have a moratorium, but we need some proposal in its place.”
Mr. Walter reiterated that “there are some things in the master plan that I vigorously disagree with,” such as the commercial zoning on Route 25A in Wading River.
He said he plans to bring Frank Fish, the consultant who worked on Brookhaven Town’s study of the Route 25A corridor, to the Riverhead Town Board to initiate a new study on possibly updating Wading River’s zoning. Even if the board agrees to do so, it doesn’t necessarily mean a moratorium is necessary, Mr. Walter said.