Supervisor looks to change how site plans are considered

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter is proposing that site plan applications, which are applications builders and developers file with the town for commercial projects, be required to have public hearings before the planning board.

Currently, Riverhead is the only town where public hearings are not required for site plans, town officials said. In the past, the Town Board had jurisdiction over site plan approvals itself, but that jurisdiction was moved to the planning board several years ago. Either way, hearings were never required.

Mr. Walter made his comments at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting, at which Wading River residents asked the board to take action to stop what they feel is an excessive amount of commercial development proposed for their hamlet — and as one developer showed up to ask that his project not be included in any upcoming studies or building moratoriums.

A petition calling for a new study of development in Wading River was signed by more than 420 people over the past week and presented to the Town Board Tuesday. The petition was accompanied by a letter from environmental and civic groups urging the town to stop all new development while such a study takes place.

The town planning board on Jan. 6 unanimously rejected a proposal by Mr. Walter to do a cumulative study of the impacts of three large development proposals pending in Wading River. However, a letter recently sent by the Group for the East End, an environmental organization, and two civic organizations, claims that their own legal research indicates the town board has the jurisdiction to do such a study itself.

“The Town has the authority pursuant to New York State MunicipalHome Rule to enact a short-term moratorium on the Wading River Route 25A corridor” while a study is undertaken, the letter stated.

It was signed by Group for the East End, the Wading River Civic Association and the Riverhead Neighbor Preservation Coalition.

This comes as another commercial development application for Route 25A is about to be submitted to Town Hall.

Joseph Vento of Port Jefferson said he is about to submit a proposal for a 42,000-square-foot development on the south side of Route 25, between McDonald’s and the funeral home. But Mr. Vento, who is working with developer James Tsunis on the project, asked the Town Board Tuesday not to lump his project in with other development projects in the area, claiming that he has owned his land since 1988, and has been repeatedly thwarted in his attempts to develop it by town planning studies, such as the Wading River Hamlet Study in the late 1980s.

In 1989, his partners went into bankruptcy, and he bought the land in foreclosure, but he said it cost so much to recoup the money he spent to buy the land that he wasn’t able to resubmit a development proposal for it until the mid-1990s.

In the early part of the 2000s, the town then began its master plan update and enacted a moratorium on new development.

“I had a very good option where a Stop and Shop was going to be going there, it was a done deal… then your moratorium for the second time came through, from 2001 to 2003, which basically put a total stop on the property,” he explained.

The new zoning and new Pine Barrens regulations also reduced the amount of building permitted on the land, he said. A proposal to build a Rite Aid on the site also fell through he said, but now he is ready to submit a new site plan, has tenants interested in the site and there’s talk of another study.

“After 23 years, four sets of plans, and now a new one being filed. I think I have a right to use my property,” Mr. Vento told the Town Board.

“Nobody is saying you can’t use your property,” Mr. Walter responded. “But you can understand that when Wading River is receiving applications to develop a number of projects all at once, that a comprehensive traffic study and a limited scope impact statement should be looked at.”

He said the developers should pay for the expansion of the road if it needs to be widened.

Dominique Mendez of Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition urged the board to do something.

“We moved here to get away from that type of sprawl,” she said.

She presented the board with 420 signatures on a petition that states, “I implore the Riverhead Town Board to study these matters and to do all it can to preserve the town of Wading River and its neighborhoods, before it’s too late.”

Ms. Mendez said she collected the signatures over one weekend in front of the Wading River King Kullen.

Mr. Walter said his fear with calling for a moratorium is that it could end up in court, where approvals could be granted by a judge with no town input

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