Commercial building plans may soon be subject to public hearings

In Riverhead Town, if someone is proposing a five-lot residential subdivision, a public hearing is required. But if they’re proposing a 500,000 square foot shopping center, no hearing is required, so long as the application complies with zoning.

Now, the Town Board is moving closer to changing that.

The board on Thursday reviewed a proposal to require public hearings on all commercial site plan applications.

Those hearing would be held before the town planning board, which reviews site plans. For many years, the Town Board reviewed commercial site plan applications, and no public hearings where required.

During the prior administration of Phil Cardinale, the board voted to shift site plan responsibility to the planning board, but no requirement for hearings was ever enacted.

The proposal being considered would have the hearing on the preliminary site plan application, not the final one.

“In reviewing this, we discovered that there is a requirement that site plans be reviewed and approved or disapproved within 62 days of the hearing,” town planning director Rick Hanley said.

State law also requires the hearing to be held within 62 days of receiving the application.

“Based on staffing levels, there’s no way we can do that,” said deputy town attorney Bill Duffy. Since those requirements pertain to the final site plan application in municipalities that have hearings on site plans, the decision was made to instead have the hearing on the preliminary site plan application, Mr. Duffy said.

“We support the change,” said Wading River Civic Association president Sid Bail, who is also a member of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, which has lobbied for hearings on site plans.

“It makes it a process and gives the public some advance notice about commercial site plans that might affect their neighborhoods,” he continued. “Right now, if you find out about an application and go to a meeting, it depends on the disposition of the folks of the planning board as to whether you can express your point of view.”

Mr. Bail said the current planning board has allowed public input, but he would like to see it become required.

“I have no problems with the existing board,” he later said in an interview Friday.

As for having the hearings on preliminary site plans rather than final site plans, Mr. Bail said, “I don’t know. It’s something where we’ll have to try it on for size, I guess.”

The Town Board is expected to hold a public hearing in the upcoming weeks on its proposal to require the planning board to hold hearings on site plans. No official date has been set yet.

Town Board members voiced support for the proposal Thursday.

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