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Board delays votes on Nile Rodgers festival, planning shakeup

Councilman George Gabrielsen was joined by grandson Robert, 9, at his last meeting Thursday. (That's Town Attorney Bob Kozakieiwicz in front, no doubt giving Robert some legal advice)
Councilman George Gabrielsen was joined by grandson Robert, 9, at his last board meeting Thursday.

The Riverhead Town Board held off on approving Nile Rodgers’ proposed “Freak Out! Music, Art & Wine Festival” Thursday morning, following some complaints about the event from residents.

But the board is expected to vote on the event at Tuesday’s board meeting.

Mr. Rodgers, who brought the “Freak Out! Let’s Dance!” (FOLD) festival to Martha Clara Vineyards for two mid-week nights last August, this year proposes to do so for three days, on the weekend of Aug. 12,13, and 14.

The delay in voting on the festival Thursday was the result of a technicality brought to light by Jamesport resident Angela DeVito, who asked if the State Environmental Quality Review Act documentation for the event was complete.

Town planning and building administrator Jeff Murphree said the first part, which is done by the applicant, was complete, but the second part, which must be done by the town, was not, but would be by Tuesday, which led board members to hold off the vote.

Ms. DeVito had questioned whether local people were benefitting from the event.

Jamesport resident Eileen McDuffie told the board on Thursday she opposed the event.

“We suggest that an event of this magnitude be held at an other venue further west,” she said. “EPCAL seems a perfect location.”

She said the town needs to weigh how the event helps the local economy.

“Small businesses are not receiving the benefits of this,” she said.

Ms. McDuffie added that by voting on the permit on a Thursday morning on New Years’ Eve, the vote would take place when many residents were away.

Robert Skinner of Jamesport said the large billboards that were put up along Sound Avenue for last year’s FOLD Festival caused traffic along Sound Avenue to “stop and gawk.”

Supervisor Sean Walter said those signs will not be permitted this year.

Mr. Skinner also suggested the town come up with a system whereby local residents could get some sort of identification for their car windows so that police would be able to let locals get through, instead of being stuck in concert traffic.

“I don’t want to go through what I went through last summer,” he said.

East End Arts executive director Pat Snyder wrote a letter asking the board to support the event, saying that Mr. Rodgers is already working with EEA to possibly provide additional free concerts locally and he’s also vowed to get local musicians onstage for the Freak Out festival.

“He is committed to working with East End Arts and JumpstArt,” she said, referring to a public arts project EEA holds in August.

John Kowalenko of East Hampton, who owns a catering and event management company that worked at the festival, said his company put over $100,000 back into the economy through the festival, but he also said some vendors, including himself, are still owed money from Nile Rodgers Productions.

Mr. Kowalenko added that he has worked at The Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia, and locals there are given a “badge” to put in their car windows, so that police can waive them past event traffic.

Supervisor Sean Walter spoke highly of the concert, saying there was “an amazing number of residents from Riverhead and Southold towns” there, and that local hotels and vendors did well.

• Planning shakeup on hold

The Town Board on Thursday also held off voting on any of the Planning Board changes it had previously discussed.

Specifically, a resolution was pulled appointing outgoing Councilman George Gabrielsen, whose last meeting was Thursday, to the Town Planning Board beginning in January.

Mr. Gabrielsen, who had decided not to run for reelection in order to devote more time to his farming and other businesses, said he changed his mind about joining the Planning Board for the same reasons.

The Planning Board seat of longtime member Joe Baier is up for reappointment and Mr. Walter said he wants to appoint a farmer to that seat. Lyle Wells, a farmer, had served on the Planning Board for over a decade up until last year, when he was replaced by businessman George Nunnaro.

The board also held off on appointing a new chairman and vice-chairman ot the Planning Board Thursday, although those residents will likely be voted on Tuesday.

The board had planned to make Stan Carey the new chairman of the Planning Board, replacing Richard O’Dea, who will remain a member of that board, and making Ed Densieski the vice-chairman, replacing Mr. Baier.

Tim Hubbard, who was elected to fill Mr. Gabrielsen’s seat come January, and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio had questioned why the Planning Board appointments were being done at the end of the year, instead of the beginning of January, when the newly-elected Councilman can vote.

Mr. Walter said Mr. Carey had asked that the vote be done in January.

As for Mr. Baier’s seat, Mr. Walter said the board will now advertise for people seeking to fill that seat, something it had not done when it planned to appoint Mr. Gabrielsen.

Tuesday’s meeting, the first of 2016, will begin at 2 p.m.