Supervisor’s vision: Moving toward the pot of gold

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter outlined a hand-written vision for the future of the town during Thursday’s work session. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

With support waning from Town Board members on various projects, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter laid out a lengthy, hand-written “vision for the town” at Thursday’s work session that called for at least a majority of board members to move forward in unison toward the town’s future goals. 

Plans to sell the Second Street firehouse, as part of an $11.3 million renovation of the Route 58 armory to turn it into a police and justice court facility, and to convert the Henry Pfeifer Community Center in Calverton into a town animal shelter, all appear to have lost the support of a majority of board members, despite having been proposed more than a year ago in each case.

“My point is, we’re on the left and we’re trying to move toward the pot of gold on the right,” Mr. Walter said afterward. “We can’t send mixed signals to anybody. We’ve got to set a clear path and we’ve got to move down that path.”

He said it’s only important that a majority of the board agree on that path, and not that the board be unanimous.

With a projector unavailable in town hall, Mr. Walter wrote his vision on what he called a “ginormous white piece of paper” taped to the wall of the board room, often standing on a chair to write on the higher parts of the paper.

Mr. Walter’s first suggestion was that the town’s highway yard and garage on Route 58, and its buildings and grounds headquarters, all be consolidated with the New York State Department of Transportation, which has its yard on Route 58.

The supervisor said these are all valuable properties, and he suggested they be sold, and a new consolidated facility be built at the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

Mr. Walter said he already bounced this off state DOT officials, who opposed the idea, but he said that if the state and the governor are serious about the 2-percent tax cap, consolidations are the only way to achieve the goal.

“The question is, is the board going to be willing to take the risk to get to the ultimate goal?” he asked Town Board members. “You would have fewer employees because you would have a combined town and state work force.”

Councilman John Dunleavy said afterward that he thinks this proposal is “pie in the sky” and the state would never agree to it. He feels smaller shared service agreements with other municipalities are more realistic, such as the town’s current arraignment with the Riverhead School District on fueling stations.

Councilman Jim Wooten also suggested that payroll services be consolidated with the Riverhead School District.

Mr. Walter also would like to bring some town offices closer together, such as the accounting and engineering offices, which are in a building the town bought in 2008 on Pulaski Street. Mr. Walter said he would like to sell that building.

Mr. Wooten said he thought the supervisor’s presentation was a good idea.

“It’s important that we all understand how each other thinks and how we want to move toward a common goal,” he said. “We can define that common goal and how we can best get there. I like the idea.”

Angela DeVito, Mr. Walter’s opponent in the last supervisor race, suggested that the other board members make similar presentations.

Of late, several plans put together by the supervisor have begun to unravel, including the plan to sell the Second Street firehouse and use that money to buy more parking and to buy surveillance cameras for the parking district.

Mr. Wooten and board members George Gabrielsen and Jodi Giglio all said they oppose that plan shortly after the board heard a presentation from Suffolk Theater owner Bob Castaldi, who had proposed buying the building and leasing it to a dinosaur theater company from Japan.

The supervisor’s plan to convert the former armory building to a police and justice court headquarters has also recently run into opposition from the board, with Mr. Gabrielsen, Ms. Giglio and Mr. Dunleavy opposing it based on the estimated cost.

The town’s plan to move the animal shelter, which is now run by the North Fork Animal Welfare League under contract with the town, from Youngs Avenue to the Henry Pfeifer building on Grumman Boulevard in Calverton is still in the negotiation phase with that organization, according to Mr. Walter. Both NFAWL and the non-profit Riverhead-Move the Animal Shelter have been raising money privately for this, Mr. Walter said.

But Mr. Gabrielsen, Ms. Giglio and Mr. Dunleavy all said in interviews that they don’t support putting an animal shelter at the Pfeifer building.

Mr. Gabrielsen said he changed his mind because of the recent prospect of the town setting up a 94-acre “energy park” on the southwest part of EPCAL.

He thinks if energy companies do build facilities at EPCAL, which won’t be known until December at the earliest, they will want to lease the Pfeifer building from the town as an office. Mr. Dunleavy also said he wants to wait until the energy proposals are picked by LIPA next December to see what the town can get for the building.

Ms. Giglio said she never supported putting an animal shelter in that location.

In addition to the energy park, the town also is planning to build either a new rail spur siding or a trans-load facility where trucks could unload material from freight trains at EPCAL, Mr. Walter said.

The key to everything the town is planning at EPCAL is getting a proposed 50-lot industrial subdivision there approved by the state, Mr. Walter said. And to do that, the board can’t be changing plans in mid-stream, he said.

“We have to make sure we are not sending mixed signals to anyone,” he said.

He added, “There is nothing more important that finishing the environmental impact study.”

Switching to downtown, the supervisor said the board has already sent “mixed signals” to potential developers by backing out of the firehouse sale.

He said, as he has on several occasions, that there are offers being made or projects being discussed for downtown.

“We want to make sure we continue to get those major projects,” he said.

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