Wading River residents say rezoning would allow too much development

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Frank Fish of BFJ Planning speaks to the audience at Wednesday's meeting on the effects of rezoning in Wading River.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story was updated and edited for clarity on Feb. 28.

Several Wading River residents believe preliminary recommendations of the Wading River Corridor Study now in progress would still permit too much development in the town’s westernmost hamlet.

The recommendations were presented in Town Hall before last Wednesday night’s Riverhead Town Board meeting.

“The plan still would allow too much retail,” Dominique Mendez, president of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, said after the meeting.
Sid Bail, president of the Wading River Civic Association, said the plan would allow a 230 percent increase in the number of condominium units in Wading River, which could impact the number of children in the Shoreham-Wading River School District.

As was the case with a Feb. 4 meeting held at St. John the Baptist Church in Wading River, where the study was also discussed, last Wednesday’s meeting was packed well beyond the 119-person capacity in the Town Board meeting room.

Unlike the meeting at St. John’s, however, none of the owners of property slated to be rezoned spoke in their own defense last week.

Peter Danowski, an attorney who represents some of the property owners whose land is proposed for rezoning in the study, didn’t speak at the meeting but said afterward, “If these recommendations are adopted, I think it will lead to litigation.”

He said the new businesses proposed would create jobs and an increased tax base.

The majority of the comments came from people who believe the hamlet’s current zoning would allow for too much commercial development along the Route 25A corridor in Wading River. Several of them said they don’t believe the recommendations in the $42,000 study, which is being done by BFJ Planning of Manhattan, go far enough to limit commercial development.

The study proposes to rezone five groups of properties comprising 42 acres along Route 25A from Business CR to Multifamily Residential/Professional Office (MRP). The properties include the 18-acre John Zoumas property on the south side of the highway, just east of CVS, three adjoining properties on the north side of Route 25A, across from the Zoumas land, and a 1.8-acre wedge to the immediate west of the Route 25A and Sound Avenue traffic light.

Two parcels in question are already slated for development. Mr. Zoumas is proposing a commercial project called Central Square and a project called North Shore Country Plaza is planned for land across the street.

“We’re trying to prevent more strip malls,” BFJ Planning’s Frank Fish said last week. In addition to the proposed rezoning, the study also proposes some changes to the MRP zone to reduce development density.

As for traffic, Mr. Fish said, “We’re not going to have much effect on traffic no matter what we do. Most of the traffic on 25A is through-traffic … we can’t do much about it. What we can do is make sure the traffic generation on the property we rezone is less.”

The study makes no recommendation for the Knightland property, owned by Kenn Barra, at the corner of Route 25A and Sound Avenue, where a beverage store is now. Mr. Fish said that parcel was left out of the study because it is in litigation. Riverhead Neighorhood Preservation Cooalitoin, a civic group, sued after the town Planning Board approved the site plan for that property earlier this year.

The Central Square application also is before the Planning Board and Mr. Danowski, the attorney for the applicant, submitted a letter to the Planning Board last week asking it to approve that project. He also made that request verbally at the last Planning Board meeting.

The RNPC, the Wading River Civic Association and the Group for the East End all had urged the town to declare a moratorium on processing applications within the study area while the study was ongoing so they wouldn’t be approved before the recommendations can be enacted, but Town Board members rejected that request.

The study also doesn’t make any recommendations for property west of the Wading River-Manor Road intersection, although one property there, adjacent to the funeral home on Route 25A, is slated for a large commercial development called Venezia Square.

Resident Kevin Keillor said he thinks the pressure to change the zoning has created a panic among property owners, who are now scrambling to develop their land before it is rezoned.

Nick DiPierro of Wading River supported the developers.

“Every time somebody wants to develop something in Wading River, there’s a call for a moratorium,” he said.

Ms. Mendez said the plan as of now would eliminate some retail development and limit the size of the multi-family units permitted, but it would still lead to more development.

“A drastic increase in the amount of overall development at the expense of open space is certainly not what the community wants,” she said Thursday.

She added: “The study is also seriously flawed in that it continues to ignore the rural neighborhood business [BCR] zone. The recommendations disregard the potential for 120,000 square feet of retail [at the parcels not being considered for re-zoning] as if it did not exist and the planners have neglected to make any suggestions to improve the BCR zone to mitigate the remaining potential for retail and restaurant overdevelopment.”

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