Town Board: Walter calls community group a ‘special interest’

While the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition continued its criticism of Riverhead Town over zoning issues in Wading River at Tuesday’s Riverhead Town Board meeting, Supervisor Sean Walter shot back at the group by calling them a special interest and questioning the number of people they represent.

RNPC president Dominique Mendez initially expressed concerns over the ongoing Wading River Route 25A corridor study, and what she called a lack of public input meeting on that study. She also spoke out against the town’s decision to not have a moratorium on processing projects in the study area while the study is ongoing.

Ms. Mendez, who says RNPC is “a coalition of resident, civic and environmental groups advocating for the quality of life and rural character of Riverhead representing over 1,000 Riverhead residents, including members of seven member civic groups,” said the recent Planning Board approval of the Knightland project on the corner of Route 25A and Sound Avenue is an example of why the moratorium was necessary. RNPC filed a lawsuit challenging that approval last week, less than a day after it was approved.

Mr. Walter said that “if you truly represent 1,000 people, which I believe you do not,” she had the opportunity to give input on the plan in a meeting in October, but instead chose to “lambaste town officials.”

Ms. Mendez said that meeting was a “focus group” meeting, to which the public was not invited. She questioned why the public workshop, which is called for in the contract the town signed with BFJ Planning, hasn’t happened yet.

Mr. Walter said there are still plenty of opportunities for the public to be heard before the town adopts any of the recommendations from BFJ.

“There’s no way we’re not having the public involved,” he said. He added that they will give a presentation at the Town Board’s Jan. 12 public work session.

Ms. Mendez said two more commercial site plans for land in the Route 25A corridors were recently filed. The study was initially called for because of four large commercial projects being proposed in the Route 25A corridor. That number included Knightland, which has since been approved.

One of the new proposals, North Country Plaza at Wading River, calls for 42,000 square feet of development, with two restaurants and retail uses on the north side of Route 25A, diagonally across from CVS.

Mr. Walter said he talked to the Condzella family, which owns that property, and was told they only filed a site plan application to protect their property rights, because of all the talk of moratoriums.

The supervisor said RNPC’s actions contributed to this plan being filed.

“So they are going to develop land because of RNPC?” Ms. Mendez asked sarcastically. Regardless, she said, the underlying zoning still allows this project.

“I believe you are a special interest group,” Mr. Walter. “You are working to the detriment of other preservation efforts of the town.”

Ms. Mendez said many other civic and environmental organizations in the town belong to RNPC.

“If they understood your tactics, they wouldn’t be involved,” Mr. Walter said. “RNPC sent people to threaten me before the election.”

“That’s a bold-faced lie,” Ms. Mendez said.

Prior to the election, Mr. Walter publicly accused RNPC and Richard Amper of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, who was working with RNPC in its “Save Wading River” campaign, of working in conjunction with the Democratic  party candidates he was running against, because they unhappy with development issues in Wading River.

Mr. Walter said after the meeting that this is what he was referring to when he said RNPC sent people to threaten him.

Both Ms. Mendez and Mr. Amper denied those allegations.

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