01/20/14 7:00am
01/20/2014 7:00 AM

Riverhead Town officials are hoping to get more money out of the leases the town has with cellphone companies with antennas on top of water towers.

A company called Bench Strength Partners says it can examine lease agreements the town has to determine if the town should be making more from them.

According to Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, every time a cell company upgrades its equipment on a town facility, it is supposed to notify the town, and the town, according to its contracts, should be paid more.

 “We are not getting our fair share of the fees for these devices,” Ms. Giglio said at a work session earlier this month, where the issue was discussed.

The town’s 2014 budget anticipates $655,000 in revenue from leases on town water towers.

Bench Strength Partners, which contributed to Ms. Giglio’s re-election campaign last year, only gets paid only if it generates more money for the town, according to deputy town attorney Ann Marie Prudenti.

If Bench Strength negotiates up to 20 percent more than $655,000, the town doesn’t have to pay anything. If the town makes between 20 and 30 percent more, BSP gets 15 percent of the increase. If the town makes between 30 and 40 percent more, BSP gets 20 percent of the increase. If the town makes 40 to 50 percent more, BSP gets 25 percent of that, and if the town makes 50 percent more or higher, BSP gets 30 percent, according to Ms. Prudenti.

Any money the town makes as a result of contracting with Bench Strength would go to the water district, which issues the leases to cellphone companies, according to Supervisor Sean Walter. However, since the water district is in debt to the general fund, the town general fund will benefit, according to the supervisor.

tgannon@timesreview

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01/01/14 3:29pm
01/01/2014 3:29 PM
TIM GANNON PHOTO | Sean Walter says some words at the town's inauguration ceremonies Wednesday at Pulaski Street School.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Sean Walter says some words at the town’s inauguration ceremonies Wednesday at Pulaski Street School.

Riverhead Town officials re-elected in November were sworn in for their new terms Wednesday in a New Year’s Day inauguration ceremony at the Pulaski Street School.

Supervisor Sean Walter, council members Jodi Giglio and John Dunleavy, Highway Superintendent George Woodson and Assessor Laverne Tennenburg, all incumbents, all took their oath of office, assisted by family members.

The only new face at Wednesday’s ceremony was Republican Anthony Palumbo, who was elected to fill a vacancy in the North Fork state Assembly position that was vacated by the resignation of former assemblyman Dan Losquadro.

Mr. Walter once again said the current Town Board has made progress in reviving downtown and the Enterprise Park at Calverton, and has improved the town’s financial condition since taking over in 2010.

He said there is a great anticipation for what will happen in the future, and hinted that some big projects may be coming to EPCAL.

“Some of things people are looking to do at EPCAL, we can’t even talk about them because they are so large” and the applicants have asked that they not be made public, Mr. Walter said.

Mr. Dunleavy noted that East End Arts was unable to do its annual window decorating contest in the vacant stores in downtown Riverhead this year because there aren’t enough empty stores.

He also said Route 58 has been a big tax generator and that without some of the big retail centers there, people’s taxes would be much higher.

Mr. Dunleavy said the new Walmart on western Route 58 is scheduled to open on Jan. 15 and the new Costco is expected to open in April.

After that, he said, there won’t be many large tracts left on Route 58 that can be developed.

tgannon@timesreview.com

12/12/13 5:42pm
12/12/2013 5:42 PM


CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | The Glass Greenhouse opened its newly built farmers’ market without site plan approval from the Town, Supervisor Sean Walter said.

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.

11/21/13 2:16pm
11/21/2013 2:16 PM
An artist’s rendering of the main atrium at the Family Community Life Center’s recreational and other facilities.

An artist’s rendering of the main atrium at the Family Community Life Center’s recreational and other facilities.

The proposed “Community Benefit” overlay zone needed for First Baptist Church’s Family Community Life Center will soon be revised since it doesn’t have the support of a majority of Riverhead Town Board members in its current form.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio and Councilmen George Gabrielsen and John Dunleavy said at Thursday’s Town Board work session that they could not support the proposed zoning as currently written.

Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman Jim Wooten did support it at Thursday’s work session, where the proposed overlay zone was discussed with representatives of the church, which has proposed building 132 affordable apartment units intended as “work force housing” for the area.

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Mr. Gabrielsen opposed the requirement in the zoning that a project have 800 feet of road frontage on a state or county road in order to qualify for the overlay zone.

First Baptist’s Northville Turnpike property has 807 feet of frontage on a county road.

“That just seems like it was site specific,” Mr. Gabrielsen said.

Check out our live blog coverage

Mr. Walter said the proposal will need to be revised to meet Mr. Gabrielsen’s concerns so that a new public hearing can be held in early January.

Another change Mr. Gabrielsen proposed is a requirement for a 50-foot vegetative buffer between the project and neighboring homes, instead of the 25 feet in the proposed code.

“When you have something this dense and this high, I think neighbors have the right to a 50-foot buffer,” he said.

Ms. Giglio said the proposed 10 units per acre of residential housing is too dense, and she also feels the project should not be exempt from taxes, and should pay either taxes or payments in lieu of taxes.

Mr. Dunleavy agreed with the concerns of his fellow council members.

Mr. Walter, who has consistently supported the project, said he thinks Mr. Gabrielsen’s requests “are reasonable and they are doable,” but the tax issues raised by Ms. Giglio and Mr. Dunleavy probably cannot be addressed.

Ms. Giglio also raised the question of what other properties in town would meet the criteria of the proposed zone.

A map produced by town planning and building administrator Jeff Murphree shows about five other properties.

“A couple are owned by the county, and one has an approved site plan on it, so the way I’m looking at this is that there is only one other piece of property in the town that could possibly benefit from this zoning,” Ms. Giglio said.

The proposed overlay zone, which will now be rewritten, would have allowed a community center and workforce housing on land that meets certain criteria, including having 10 or more acres of land with at least 800 feet of frontage on a county or state highway, as well as public water and sewer connections.

The proposed Family Community Life Center would include an Olympic-size indoor swimming pool, a 25-seat theater and media center and 24-hour adult and child day care services. The proposal also includes an indoor walking track, gymnasium, fitness center and classroom space.

It would be located on the 12-acre church property on Northville Turnpike. The Rev. Charles Coverdale has said the income from the apartments is needed to subsidize the rest of the project, which would be open to the community.

The allowed number of housing units would be one per acre, but the proposed zone would allow additional units with the purchase or either transferred development rights from farms, or open space development credits from Suffolk County, which are dedicated for use in affordable housing and would be made available to such projects at no charge.

The church is hoping for the latter and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has publicly pledged support for the project.

The Family Community Life Center project, which has been in the works for more than 20 years, received overwhelming support from speakers at a Nov. 6 public hearing.

Reached for comment after the meeting, Mr. Coverdale said, “We have to go through the process. We want things to be right.”

tgannon@timesreview.com

11/07/13 3:32pm
11/07/2013 3:32 PM
Riverhead Town Board

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Supervisor Sean Walter reading a Bible verse in Town Hall in 2012.

Back in 2010, during Supervisor Sean Walter’s first year in office, he proposed that the Town Board begin its meetings with an invocation, or prayer, recited by a local member of the clergy, with a different clergy member each meeting.

There was some initial concern about violating separation of state and religion requirements, but the idea took effect in August of 2010 and has been in effect even since — with little or no objections.

The board has had Catholic, Jewish, Baptist, and other clergy leaders do the invocations over that time.

Now, a dispute in the upstate Town of Greece could bring this issue back to the forefront.

A lawsuit brought by an atheist woman and a Jewish woman challenging that town’s pre-meeting prayers is before the U.S. Supreme Court.

That case, called Town of Greece vs. Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, was heard before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Ms. Galloway and Ms. Stephens claim that most of the prayers read before that town’s meetings are Christian prayers.  They also argue that people at these meetings may feel coerced to participate in the prayers.

The Supreme Court has yet to render a decision.

Mr. Walter mentioned the case prior to Wednesday’s Riverhead Town Board, where Pastor Scott Kraniak, the chaplain of Riverhead Raceway as well as the pastor of the Centereach Bible Church, gave the invocation.

“Today the Supreme Court is hearing a case about whether towns can introduce a Town Board meeting with an invocation,” Mr. Walter said. “I find it interesting that at all other levels of government this has passed constitutional muster, yet at the town level, for some reason, it’s before the Supreme Court.”

Mr. Walter said Congress, the state Legislature, and the county Legislature all begin their meetings with a prayer.

“I say this to let everybody know,” Mr. Walter said. “We do this, and it’s non-denominational. If somebody comes in, they will pray what they wish to pray, and if somebody wants to come in from any particular sect or religion, we’re open to that.  And we’ll either sit or stand, whatever they want us to do.”

The supervisor then added, “I hope that God’s wisdom is with the Supreme Court in making this very interesting decision.”

The Supreme Court in a 1983 case called Marsh vs. Chambers upheld the practice of starting legislative meetings with an invocation.

tgannon@timesreview.com

11/02/13 9:59am
11/02/2013 9:59 AM

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Supervisor Sean Walter

Democratic supervisor nominee Angela DeVito is without a doubt a formidable challenger to two-term incumbent Republican Supervisor Sean Walter. She’s intelligent, hard-working and has given much back to the town by way of public service and civic involvement. She’s built a long and impressive résumé that reflects a life of advocacy for worker health and safety and, as a former Riverhead school board president, oversaw a budget larger than the town’s.

Ms. DeVito has run a spirited campaign. But unseating a sitting supervisor is equal parts quality of the challenger and a referendum on the incumbent’s performance. (It can be argued that elections for executive offices skew toward the latter.) It was paramount that Ms. DeVito convince voters that Riverhead Town has been on the wrong track and would continue in the same wrong direction under Mr. Walter. We’re not sure she even believes this.

Ms. DeVito may take issue with Mr. Walter’s tone of voice, behavior and his overall treatment of people who oppose him but at last week’s debate she agreed that his administration seems headed in the right direction on his signature push to subdivide and fast-track development projects for EPCAL. She also offered no clear competing vision for downtown and failed to outline any realistic approach to solving the town’s financial troubles.

Profiles: Meet the candidates for supervisor

On the all-important issue of finances, Ms. DeVito is critical of the supervisor and his Plan B of potentially borrowing against town land at EPCAL to stave off a massive tax hike in 2015. But her only idea involves the unrealistic notion that a cash-strapped Suffolk County would fork over to Riverhead Town a portion of sales tax revenues collected within the town. While this might have been a handy sound bite when out knocking on doors, many in government recognize it would be next to impossible to achieve.

More than anything else, it’s Mr. Walter’s behavior, which at times can be smug and condescending, that makes him susceptible in this race.

While he admits to these faults — and even seems to embrace them, often speaking of “breaking eggs to make omelettes” — he’ll continue to be plagued by political onslaughts from all sides if he doesn’t learn how to speak to people with courtesy and respect.

Still, it’s hard to argue with his results. Since taking office in 2010, Mr. Walter has worked tirelessly to push legislation in Albany to help develop EPCAL, called on the state comptroller’s office to audit the town’s finances to improve its long-term financial health and has himself tried to attract new investors to a Main Street that’s on the upswing in no small part because of his efforts. With Gov. Cuomo’s signing of the EPCAL fast-track bill into law last week, it would seem Mr. Walter is just starting to hit his stride.

The jury is out, however. Main Street is still struggling. (And Ms. DeVito is right in saying the town needs to also focus on quality-of-life issues in surrounding areas, such as trouble-plagued Second and Third streets, and in neighboring Riverside.) EPCAL still sits undeveloped and the town faces a budget crisis and needs to find alternative sources of revenue, quickly. Even though it’s never seemed to be an outward priority of his administration, Mr. Walter should take his fighting spirit to the developers — whose main goals are always profit, often at taxpayer expense — to better protect the “small town” so many cherish here.

It’s not time to have someone else finish the job Mr. Walter started. He deserves another two years to advance his plans for the town.

10/25/13 3:19pm
10/25/2013 3:19 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Volunteer Paul Dooling, of Farmingdale, power washes the A-6E.

Restoration of the F-14 and A-6E fighter jets on loan from the U.S. Navy and on display at Grumman Memorial Park in Calverton got under way Friday.

Six volunteers — many of them Grumman retirees — from Nassau County’s Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City donated their time Friday morning to perform “spot repairs,” by power-washing and scraping away and chipping paint from the airplanes.

Friday’s maintenance efforts focused on winterizing the planes, Cradle of Aviation Museum executive director Andrew Parton said.

The planes will be painted for the first time since 2007 next spring, he said.

“It feels good to preserve this part of Long Island’s history,” Mr. Parton said. “We’re happy to do it.”

The town teamed up with the museum to make the proper repairs after Calverton civic members and a News-Review article in May highlighted the planes’ deteriorating condition.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said Friday’s clean up was just the start of the restoration, saying there would be a long-term partnership with the museum to ensure the planes remained the best possible condition.

He said the town is working out the details of the maintenance plan and would continue to supply the paint and other materials, such as ladders, a power washer and a bucket truck as needed.

“The fact that they’re doing this for the town is tremendous,” Mr. Walter said. “We are looking forward to a long partnership with the Cradle of Aviation Museum.”

cmurray@timesreview.com 

10/25/13 12:51pm
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Sean Walter and Angela DeVito on the Suffolk Theater stage.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Sean Walter and Angela DeVito on the Suffolk Theater stage.

Riverhead supervisor candidates Sean Walter, the incumbent Republican, and Angela DeVito, the challenging Democrat, took the stage on Thursday night at the Suffolk Theater for a debate co-sponsored by the Riverhead News-Review and RiverheadLocal.

The two answered questions about downtown, Enterprise Park at Calverton, Route 58 and more, even getting the chance to ask each other a question during the debate.

Check out their responses recorded here. And check back with us to check out video from the town board debate.

Candidates answer questions individually tailored to them:

Candidates speak about their vision for EPCAL: 

Candidates speak about their plans for avoiding a tax hike in coming years: 

Candidates on their plans for downtown: 

Closing statements: