BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO
Sound Park Heights Civic Association president Eric Biegler addresses a group of concerned citizens from Reeves Park and other communities in Riverhead Saturday morning about the possible future commercial development along the rural corridor of Sound Avenue.
The battlefield is growing in the debate over a proposed shopping center at the corner of Park Road and Sound Avenue, as representatives of civic associations outside of Reeves Park are now joining the fight.
The residents also have begun a petition drive, and hope to deliver a petition with 1,000 signatures against the development plans to the Town Board at its next meeting on Sept. 8, which is a Wednesday afternoon.
At a meeting at Reeves Beach Saturday morning called by residents who have opposed EMB Enterprises’ plans for a 28,000 square foot shopping center and restaurant, representatives of civic groups from Wading River, the Willow Ponds condo association, and from the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition also were present.
“We all feel that further development of Sound Avenue is to the detriment of every taxpayer in the Town of Riverhead,” said Eric Biegler, president of the Sound Park Heights Civic Association, which represents the Reeves Park area. “It’s not just a Reeves Park issue. It’s a Willow Ponds issue, it’s a Wading River issue, it’s an issue for downtown Riverhead, where they cannot fill their stores and not fill their developments. To put more development further away, is only going to draw business away from them.”
Town officials have said they cannot litigate the EMB Enterprises case any further. EMB, owned by Kenn Barra, sued the town after it rezoned the property from commercial to residential in 2004, after he had submitted a commercial application. Supervisor Sean Walter said the town lost the initial court ruling on the case, and also lost the appeal. The appellate court ruling declared the site plan approved, pending an environmental review, he said.
The Sound Parks Heights group recently hired attorney Carolyn Zenk, who wrote a legal opinion stating that while the courts overturned the first rezoning, the Town Board later rezoned the property from commercial to residential again after that, and that the second rezoning was done properly. She feels the town should take no action and simply regard the land as residentially zoned, which would prevent a shopping center.
Mr. Biegler said there also have been unpopular developments in other parts of the town, where town officials have sided with the developer.
“This is a disturbing trend,” he said Saturday. “That our town leaders are going to ignore what we say, and what we want, as taxpayers and citizens and voters, for the betterment of the developers.”
“This is definitely a Riverhead, not just an issue for one local community,” said Dominique Mendez, the co-founder of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, a non-profit group that is attempting to bring all of the civic organizations in town together. “Unfortunately with the Town Board, it’s numbers. We’ve got voting power, we pay taxes and we need to be a voting block and show them that they have to factor in what residents like, and our quality of life. We need to be heard.”
Bob Kelly, a Reeves Park resident whose brother Tom, also a Reeves Park resident, was a New York City firefighter who was killed on Sept. 11, 2001, commended the town for naming Park Road after his brother several years ago, but added, “It means a lot to me. I don’t want to see a Burger King behind it.”
Mr. Biegler commended Mr. Walter for saying he didn’t believe the shopping center belonged on Park Road, and for saying he felt the town should try to buy the property in question for use as parkland.