Helping golf course is for common good

Last year, when I was campaigning for Town Supervisor, I received some criticism when I said we should not be spending China’s money to pay for our mistakes. That might not have been the best phrasing, but the overall point remains: I am not a fan of bailouts. I don’t like deficits. I am a supporter of the private sector and I like small government. I am frugal with the public’s money. When it comes to spending the taxpayer’s hard-earned dollars, I am more like Jack Benny than I am like Paris Hilton.

For those of you following the story, the people behind Great Rock Golf Course in Wading River say they are on the verge of getting ready to throw in the financial towel. They say they can no longer afford to keep the doors open. The ownership of Great Rock is floating a plan to build “golf villas” at the site and they claim that development is necessary to stay afloat and to keep the golf course functioning. More than one hundred residents adjacent to Great Rock signed a petition, delivered to my office, asking that the town hold a public hearing on the construction of villas at Great Rock. Great Rock is an attractive amenity for our town. Blackwell’s Restaurant, which is located at the course, is a popular eatery. If Great Rock decided tomorrow to close its doors, Riverhead would lose nearly $200,000 per year in tax revenue and a whole neighborhood would sit next to a closed, untended golf course.

As supervisor, I have offered no opinion on the villa plan, nor have other members of the town board. I will say, however, that as your supervisor I am at least willing to listen to ideas because we as a town want to do all we can to promote job growth and because you, the residents of this community, requested a meeting.

I am in favor of having an open dialogue about what we can do at Great Rock. That’s it. Plain and simple.

As we progress towards a community forum on this subject, I do believe we should be guided by the following principles:

* We in government are not here to bail out businesses gone bad. You have heard me describe our town’s financial shape as dire, and it is. Town Hall is here to listen to any reasonable proposal. We are here to be business-friendly, but we do not have the resources, nor is it our place, to fit square pegs into round holes.

* When it comes to zoning we should be guided by our town’s Master Plan. With that in mind, zoning ordinances are living, breathing documents. They aren’t meant to sit on a shelf, making the assumption that circumstances and needs of a community never change. Planning should be flexible and malleable for projects that provide a “public benefit.” However, in general we should respect the wisdom that went into the Master Plan.

* Should the community wish to allow the development of villas, we should make it a top priority to preserve the golf course and open space at Great Rock as best as we can so we keep the course as an amenity for future generations. One possible way to preserve the golf course would be to require that the owners convey title of the golf course to the town.

I was elected to listen to the community and act in the best interests of the people of Riverhead. When it comes to Great Rock or any other project in town, I will do exactly that. When our citizens request a meeting, I will listen. That is not only what my job as supervisor calls for, but it is also common sense among neighbors and friends.

Mr. Walter is the Riverhead Town supervisor. He lives in Wading River.