Riverhead Planning Board rejects study of Wading River development

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The Route 25A traffic crossing on Wading River Manor Road.

The Riverhead Planning Board last Thursday unanimously opposed a resolution calling for a study of the impacts of two large commercial developments proposed for Route 25A in Wading River.

Supervisor Sean Walter, himself a Wading River resident, said he had asked the Planning Board to do the study and is “not happy” that they voted it down.

The two developers, Kenn Barra, whose Knightland proposal calls for 24 small stores at the Route 25A/Sound Avenue triangle, and John Zoumas, whose Central Square plans call for stores and a restaurant just east of CVS on Route 25A, both indicated through their representatives that they would do a cumulative traffic study of their projects, using the same consultant.

But Mr. Walter and some Wading River residents say there are issues other than traffic that need to be studied. “That was something I wanted them to approve,” Mr. Walter said in an interview. He said the 2003 master plan didn’t contemplate anything like the Zoumas project, where the zoning was changed by a court ruling. Likewise, he said, “I don’t think anyone contemplated Kenn Barra assembling all those parcels” at the Knightland site.

“I’m probably the most pro-business supervisor you’re ever going to see, but to overrun Wading River with this level of commercialization is insane,” Mr. Walter said.

He said the master plan recommendations for Wading River are “ridiculous” and came at a time when there were three Jamesport residents and no Wading River representatives on the Town Board.

Planning Board members are appointed by the Town Board to five-year terms.

Joe Baier, also a Wading River resident, was the only Planning Board member to speak during the vote. He said that instead of requiring a draft generic environmental impact statement, as the resolution proposed, he felt only a supplemental impact study was needed, which would be a less intense process.

Peter Danowski, the attorney for Mr. Barra, said the state Department of Transportation would already require both applicants to study the traffic impacts of their projects. He and Marty Sendlewski, an architect representing Mr. Zoumas, both said they would agree to do a joint traffic study.

But Mr. Sendlewski said the other issues were already studied in the master plan.

“Clearly it was not the intent of SEQRA [a state environmental law] to put excess burden on projects by requiring them to redo the same studies over and over,” Mr. Sendlewski said. “All of this has been done as part of the master plan.”

He said Mr. Zoumas has already reduced the size of his project and no longer proposes any two-story buildings. Mr. Barra has told residents that he is cutting the number of stores he’s proposing from 30 to 24.

Mr. Baier said the largest concern he had was with traffic.

Mr. Danowski said in an interview after the meeting that traffic is the only issue that needs to be studied, as the projects comply with zoning and building requirements.

“It’s disingenuous to say that traffic was the whole focus of our issues,” said Dominique Mendez of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition after the meeting. “This will change Wading River. The hamlet can’t sustain all that retail development.”
Ms. Mendez submitted a letter on behalf of her group, as well as the North Fork Environmental Council, the Wading River Civic Association and the Group for the East End, an environmental group, calling for a cumulative, comprehensive review of Knightland, Central Square and the proposed expansion of the clubhouse at Great Rock Golf Club, which is located near Route 25A but not on it.

They suggested that traffic, the need for the projects and their conformance with the master plan are issues that need to be studied. There is some conflicting language in the master plan recommendations for the Knightland property, they said.

Planning Board member Ed Densieski explained his vote in an interview Monday, saying, “This area has been studied ad nauseam.” He said it was studied in the master plan, which residents supported, and said the developers have property rights and the traffic impacts will be studied.

“If the town wants to discuss a zone change, I have no problem with that on new applications, but it’s not fair for people who are at the end of the process,” Mr. Densieski said.

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