Suffolk may preserve controversial Jamesport site

Jamesport property

A 10-acre property along Main Road in Jamesport that’s been the subject of several controversial development proposals over the years could end up being purchased as open space by Suffolk County under a bill proposed last week by North Fork Legislator Al Krupski.

Mr. Krupski (D-Cutchogue) also has proposed a bill that would purchase the development rights from the 34 acres immediately north of that property, which is unused farmland that contains an ancient Native American burial site.

Both properties have the same owners, who acquired them last year in a bankruptcy proceeding last year.

[Related story: Two Jamesport projects should be studied together, civic groups argue]

The 10-acre site, across from The Elbow Room restaurant, has been proposed for a 42,000-square-foot retail center and, most recently, for a 63,000-square-foot assisted living facility.

Mr. Krupski said the 34 acres to the north are surrounded by farmland for which development rights have already been preserved.

“Hopefully, we can make the landowner an offer that works for him,” Mr. Krupski said in an interview Saturday.

The bills call for the county to start by seeking appraisals of both sites and then make an offer to the owner, a group headed by Woodbury-based developer Robert DiNoto, who acquired both properties in a bankruptcy proceeding for about $5 million, according to county records.

The county also would have to hold public hearings on the preservation efforts.

The county farmland committee will be discussing the 34-acre parcel at its March 17 meeting, which starts at 6 p.m. in the Cornell Cooperative Extension building on Griffing Avenue.

“My position is that if the property can be preserved and the money works out in terms of what my company would be able to get out of it, so be it,” Mr. DiNoto said in an interview Monday. “It has to work for us [financially], and as long as it does, and we can make everyone happy, I have no problem doing it.”

He said he will continue with efforts to develop the 10-acre piece until the open space acquisition is finalized.

“As far as 10 acres in the front goes, we were more than happy to develop that and we didn’t think it was possible financially give up the opportunity to development that property,” Mr. DiNoto said. “But if it is, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. I’m sensitive to communities and sensitive to the environment.”

The proposed preservation efforts would have to compete with other proposals for land preservation countywide, Mr. Krupski said, since preservation dollars are limited. Mr. Krupski said he met with Mr. DiNoto and local civic leaders last Tuesday, before filing the bill.

“I explained to him that he should look at all his options, because when you develop parcels, it’s a big-time consideration. There’s a lot of time and money involved,” Mr. Krupski said.

“I told him that the county will make an offer and if it can be preserved as open space, it might work for him. I wanted to make sure that he understood all his options, that’s all.

“He’s a willing participant and it’s a voluntary program,” he said.

Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association president Angela DeVito also said Mr. DiNoto has communicated with the civics.

“He is open to preservation and other ideas on what to do with the property,” Ms. DeVito said. “The hostilities of the prior owner [toward preservation] are not there.”

The site’s previous owner, Julius Klein, had proposed a 42,000-square-foot retail development, and had received special permit approvals from the Riverhead Town Board to include two bistros and professional offices in the complex. Those approvals have since expired.

Mr. Klein at one time also proposed a 160-unit retirement community on the 34-acre property immediately north of the 10 -acre parcel. But that land was rezoned by Riverhead Town as part of its 2004 master plan update, and only about 15 homes would now be permitted there.

Mr. DiNoto recently met with Riverhead Town Board members to discuss the assisted living proposal.

Mr. DiNoto said at the time that if he can build the assisted living center, which would require zoning amendments from the town, he would not develop the 34 acres to the north and would consider selling its development rights, which would mean it could only be used for farming, which was its prior use.

The southern portion of the 34 acres also includes a hill that archaeological studies say was once a Native American burial ground dating back about 3,000 years.

Phil Barbato, president of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, owns an organic farm adjacent to the DiNoto property. He said he is working with Mr. DiNoto to help him prepare the 34 acres for farming and find a farmer to rent it.

“I don’t think he’s just blowing smoke here,” Mr. Barbato said.

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Photo: Phil Barbato of Jamesport in front of the 34-acres eyed for preservation. Mr. Barbato owns an organic farm next door to it. (Credit: Tim Gannon)