Riverhead planners rebuke two Town Board requests, angering supervisor

Riverhead planners last week went against two Town Board directives pertaining to development in Wading River.

One directive called for an additional traffic study and the other involved processing an application that is the subject of a lawsuit.

And this has Supervisor Sean Walter “furious” and contemplating replacing some of the Planning Board members.

“If the Planning Board won’t do what the members of the Town Board request of them to do, then the Town Board is going to have to seriously look at replacing Planning Board members, because they are not doing the will of the elected officials and the people,” he said in an interview Friday.

Last Thursday morning — during discussion of another matter with planning director Rick Hanley, Planning Board chairman Richard O’Dea and deputy town attorney Bill Duffy, who is also the Planning Board’s attorney — the Town Board asked that the Planning Board require the applicants of two commercial development projects along Route 25A in Wading River to jointly conduct a new traffic study during the peak fall season.

The planning department had directed the developers to do the traffic study in February, according to Mr. Hanley, and then the study was soon completed. When the Town Board first heard about this Thursday, they questioned the logic of studying traffic in the middle of winter.

“You totally missed the boat,” Mr. Walter said, urging that the study be done during a peak traffic season, like October, when the pumpkin-pickers are out in force.

“The way the traffic is now, nothing should go there,” Councilman John Dunleavy said. “You don’t have to do a study, you just have to drive down the road.”
The Town Board was unanimous in calling for the additional traffic study, which would officially have to be requested by the Planning Board, which handles site plan applications.

Developers John Zoumas and Kenney Barra had agreed  to work together on the single traffic study, which would apply to their separate applications. Mr. Zoumas is proposing a 52,000-square-foot commercial project called Central Square on Route 25A, which calls for stores and a restaurant just east of the CVS pharmacy. Mr. Barra’s proposal, called Knightland, would replace the beverage store at the intersection of Route 25A and Sound Avenue with a 4,900-square-foot restaurant and 32,518 square feet of retail space in 24 buildings.

But when Mr. O’Dea took the message to the Planning Board at its work session last Thursday afternoon, it was unanimously rejected by the other four members. Mr. O’Dea abstained, he said, because “I got the order.”

“I don’t think this is fair, to ask them to do it again,” said Planning Board member Lou Boschetti.

“They don’t have the authority to tell us what to do,” said Planning Board member Ed Densieski, adding that aside from the Town Board appointing its members, the Planning Board is autonomous.

The Planning Board also had been directed by the Town Board not to process another Wading River application — Great Rock’s site plan seeking a new clubhouse building — in the wake of a lawsuit filed in May by the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, a group that seeks to link area civic and environmental groups’ efforts. That lawsuit sought to block the Great Rock application on the grounds that covenants from the original Great Rock approval many years ago “prevent the construction of a catering hall in a residential neighborhood,” according to the group.

At the Town Board work session, Mr. Walter asked that the Planning Board refer the Great Rock application to the Town Board for an interpretation of what the covenants mean, since they were Town Board covenants.

The Planning Board did not oppose that request.

As for the second rejection of a Town Board directive, the Planning Board had been told in May not to process the Great Rock application because of the lawsuit, but that was reversed Thursday and they were told by the town planning department it was OK to proceed.

This also angered Mr. Walter.

Town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz said he wrote a letter to the planning department saying that, based on his research, there was no “automatic stay” preventing the town from processing the application in the wake of the lawsuit, according to state law. But his letter didn’t say the planning department must process the application, he said, just that they have an option.

Mr. Walter said he disagreed with Mr. Kozakiewicz’s letter and doesn’t think it gives the planners permission to proceed with processing the Great Rock application.

“I do not want them processing the application until we find out what happens with the lawsuit and until the Town Board interprets the covenants,” Mr. Walter said in an interview Friday.

Mr. Hanley later said that while the application will still be processed, he doesn’t believe it can be approved until after the Town Board makes a determination on the covenants.

“They are trying to back-door a moratorium,” John Ciarelli, the attorney for Great Rock, said of the decision to not process their application.

The Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition has been urging the Town Board to declare a moratorium on all commercial development on Route 25A in Wading River until a new planning study is complete.

Mr. Ciarelli said it will likely take at least a year to get a decision in the lawsuit.

“They are trying to create a de-facto moratorium,” he said. “They are playing fast and loose with people’s property rights.”

In January, the Planning Board members went against another of Mr. Walter’s requests when they voted unanimously not to require an environmental impact study for the Barra and Zoumas projects, something Mr. Walter had asked for.

The Town Board eventually hired an outside firm to examine commercial zoning on Route 25A in Wading River, but did not impose a moratorium, which would prevent applications in this area from being processed.

Mr. Walter said that allowing Great Rock’s application to be processed before the issue of the covenants is resolved wouldn’t make sense.

“The Town Board’s goal is to protect the residents and the applicants by making sure we’re following the covenants,” he said.

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