Civics: Not just a Reeves Park issue

Sound Park Heights Civic Association president Eric Biegler addresses supporters Saturday morning about the possible future commercial development along the rural corridor of Sound Avenue. Area civic groups are banding together in an effort to fight proposed projects there.

The battlefield is expanding in the fight over a shopping center proposed for the corner of rural Park Road and Sound Avenue in Riverhead, as representatives of civic associations outside the nearby Reeves Park neighborhood are joining the fray.

A Saturday morning meeting at Reeves Beach, organized by residents who oppose EMB Enterprises’ plans for a 28,000-square-foot shopping center and restaurant, was also attended by representatives of civic groups from Wading River, the Willow Ponds condo association and the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition.

Residents also have begun a petition drive, and hope to deliver a petition with 1,000 signatures opposing the development plans to the Riverhead Town Board at its next meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 8.

“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 farther away is only going to draw business away from them.”

“Sound Avenue is a valuable asset,” Sid Bail, vice president of the Wading River Civic Association, said in an interview. “I wouldn’t like to see any more commercial development there.”

Mr. Bail said additional commercial development can create a precedent that would invite even more commercial development. He also said he agrees with Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter’s suggestion that the land be acquired by the town as a park.

Last week, Mr. Walter had suggested that the town consider purchasing the 4.1-acre site from EMB Enterprises for use as a park. But this week, the supervisor said that when he met with Kenn Barra of EMB Enterprises to discuss a possible acquisition, Mr. Barra said he would like the town to continue processing the commercial application.

Town officials have said they cannot litigate the EMB Enterprises case any further. EMB Enterprises sued the town when the town rezoned the property from commercial to residential in 2004, after the developer had submitted a commercial application. Mr. Walter said the town lost both the initial court ruling on the case and the appeal. The appellate court decision, he said, declared the site plan approved pending an environmental review.

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, and that the second rezoning was done properly. She believes 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 issue, not just an issue for one local community,” said Dominique Mendez, co-founder of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, a nonprofit group that’s attempting to unite all of the town’s civic organizations. “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.”

Reeves Park resident Bob Kelly lost his brother, Tom, a New York City firefighter who also lived in Reeves Park, on Sept. 11, 2001. He 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 for use as parkland.

But Mr. Biegler also said he thinks Mr. Walter should abstain from any votes on the EMB application because he was the attorney for Ed Broidy, who had another commercial application on the opposite side of Park Road. Mr. Broidy, who also sued the town, later discussed building homes instead of stores on that site.

Mr. Walter said that while he was once Mr. Broidy’s attorney, he is not anymore. “I don’t think it’s a conflict,” he told the News-Review. “What does one have to do with the other?”

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