Riverhead may soon require hearings on commercial site plans

Proposals to require public hearings on commercial site plans and to redefine what constitutes an “accessory use” in a development got mixed reactions at separate public hearings Tuesday night.

Representatives from civic and environmental groups largely supported the proposal to require the Planning Board to hold public hearings on preliminary site plan applications. Riverhead is one of the only towns on Long Island that doesn’t already have such a requirement for site plans, which are commercial applications.

“The public must be recognized as the true stakeholders they are,” said Dominique Mendez of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, a civic group.

“This is not a pie in the sky idea. Other East End towns have had this for years,” said Jenn Hartnagel of the Group for the East End.

But others weren’t so supportive.

Sal Diliberto, an attorney and Jamesport winery owner, feels public comment shouldn’t be required on a use that is permitted in the town code.

“It’s wrong to give people too much input when you have a property owner with rights that are as important as public’s rights to be heard,” he said.

Attorneys Peter Danowski and Linda Margolin also voiced concern.

Mr. Danowski fears required hearings will slow the approval process, and suggested the town add a provision whereby a project is automatically approved if the planning department doesn’t act on an application within 10 days of receiving it.

The proposal applies only to new applications, although Ms. Mendez feels it should also apply to applications that have been submitted before the proposal takes effect.

The second proposal, to redefine accessory uses, results from a recent Zoning Board of Appeals ruling that a wine-tasting room is a permitted accessory use to an arts and crafts store, as stated in the property’s rural corridor zoning. That zoning also lists playgrounds, churches and other permitted uses, which seemingly could also have wine-tasting rooms under that interpretation.

Mr. Diliberto says the whole discourse that’s taken place on this issue may have been a waste of time. He says state law governs where wine-tasting rooms can be located, and one would not be permitted in an arts and crafts store or a playground. Two EPCAL businessman also said their operation requires outdoor storage, which is an accessory use and, under the proposal, would have to be smaller than the main use, thus wouldn’t be allowed. They said it would be impossible to work within the proposed law.
The board wasn’t in agreement on whether or not that was an accurate assessment. Either way, Supervisor Sean Walter said the town would have to re-examine the accessory use proposal.