Town interviews consulting firm about Wading River zoning

Wading River residents who have been calling for Riverhead Town to take another look at its zoning along Route 25A may get their wish soon, as the Town Board on Thursday interviewed a consulting firm about the possibility of doing just that.

And town officials say the study may even extend beyond Route 25A.

After hearing a presentation from Wading River residents and civic leaders about what’s wrong with the town’s zoning in Wading River, the Town Board next heard from BFJ Planning, a consulting firm that did a study of zoning along Route 25A in Brookhaven Town.

Members of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition and the Wading River Civic Association were joined by Long Island Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper in calling for changes yesterday, citing four big commercial projects proposed in Wading River, three of which would be along Route 25A.

“We believe that this board is, historically, so focused on supporting business that it undermines the vision most share for our town,” said Phil Barbato, the vice president of RNPC.

Supervisor Sean Walter took issue with that statement, saying the town does enforce its code and has attorneys’ opinions backing the stances it takes, but allowed the presentation to continue.

Wading River currently has four large development projects: Great Rock golf club’s proposed expansion of its clubhouse; Knightland, a proposal to build 32,000 square feet of stores at the intersection of Sound Avenue and Route 25A; Central Square, a proposal to 52,000 square feet of commercial development on the south side of Route 25A, next to CVS; and Venezia Shopping Center, a proposal for 40,000 square feet of commercial on the south side of Route 25A between May’s farmstand and the funeral home.

The groups maintain that the a new zoning study is needed because significant additional commercial development will adversely change the hamlet and hurt existing businesses.

And they say a moratorium, in which no building could occur while the study is taking place, is needed.

“If site plans are approved before the study is completed, it’s findings will be worthless,” Mr. Amper said.

BFJ Planning had originally come in with two proposals for studying zoning in Wading River, one which would consider some text modifications to exiting zoning, and one which would involve more than that, such as redoing sections of the master plan.

But after hearing the residents’ presentation, BFJ representative Frank Fish said the town may want to consider doing a generic environmental impact study on all development proposals in the Wading River corridor, which would add another year to the estimated six to nine months needed for the first two options.

“To do it right, you want to follow SEQRA (state environmental law) to the letter of the law,” Mr. Fish said.

That option would involve holding scoping hearings, in which residents suggest issues to be examined, and public hearings, he said.

Supervisor Sean Walter said there are other things in the current master plan, which was adopted in 2003, that don’t work and don’t apply to Wading River, such as the lack of zoning for marinas.

Councilman John Dunleavy said a moratorium will decrease the value of some properties.

Mr. Walter said another issue that must be considered is that the Shoreham-Wading River school district is lacking a commercial tax base, which increases its tax rates.

BFJ Planing didn’t bring cost estimates with them, and Mr. Walter said the Town Board will need more time to decide what route it will take regarding the zoning on Route 25A and possibly elsewhere in town.

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