A petition signed by more than 420 people calling for a Wading River planning study was presented to the Riverhead Town Board last Wednesday. The petition was accompanied by a letter from environmental and civic groups urging the town to not only to launch such a study but to put all proposed buildings plans on hold until it’s concluded.
The town last declared such a development moratorium in the years leading up to the 2003 adoption of its updated master plan. But in the past few months, several of the master plan’s recommendations have been called into question by residents, environmental groups and even Supervisor Sean Walter.
On Jan. 6, the town Planning Board unanimously rejected Mr. Walter’s proposal for a cumulative study of the impacts of three large development proposals pending for Wading River. But a letter recently sent by Group for the East End, an environmental organization, and two civic organizations claims their own legal research indicates that the Town Board has the jurisdiction to do such a study itself. It was signed by Group for the East End, the Wading River Civic Association and the Riverhead
Neighborhood Preservation Coalition.
This comes as another commercial development application for Route 25A is about to be submitted in Town Hall — and that applicant is not happy about talk of a moratorium.
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 last Wednesday not to lump his project in with others in the area, claiming 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 and the master plan update.
In 1989, Mr. Vento’s partners went into bankruptcy, and he bought the land in foreclosure, but he said it cost so much to recoup what he spent to purchase the property that he wasn’t able to resubmit a development proposal for it until the mid-1990s.
In the early 2000s, the town 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,” Mr. Vento 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 added, but now that he’s ready to submit a new site plan and has tenants interested in the site, 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.”
Mr. Walter 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.
Ms. Mendez presented the board with the signed petition, which 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 400-plus signatures over one weekend in front of the Wading River King Kullen.
Mr. Walter said his fear about calling for a moratorium is that it could end up in court, where approvals could be granted by a judge with no town input.