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Town Board considers $10K cap for costs at proposed Jamesport park

A view from a neighboring property of potential Jamesport park site. Tim Gannon photo.

The Riverhead Town Board wants to put a $10,000 cap on any expenditures the town has to make in terms of management and improvement costs at a 9.7-acre “hamlet park” that Suffolk County might create on land in Jamesport that has been slated for development in recent years. 

The Town Board in April passed a resolution supporting the county’s proposal to buy the property and also to enter into an agreement with the county for its management and improvements.

But Supervisor Sean Walter says it’s not that simple.

“The problem is, as everybody knows, that the Community Preservation Fund fund is 100 percent bankrupt,” Mr. Walter said, referring to the amount of money the town has in CPF funds, which come from a two-percent land transfer tax and can be used for open space or farmland preservation.

The Riverhead Town Board in the early 2000’s borrowed about $50 million upfront to make open space purchases while the land was still available. The goal was to use future CPF revenue to pay off those bonds. But revenue was less than expected after the economy tanked.

The town’s CPF program now is about $46 million in debt, including interest payments, officials say.

“You’re asking me to write a check on a bankrupt fund,” Mr. Walter said.

Two recently-passed pieces of state legislation could help with that dilemma.

One extends the life of the CPF program by an additional 20 years, to 2050, and the other allows the town to refinance that debt.

But the CPF extension is contingent upon voters approving it in a November referendum, and the refinancing is subject to “permissive referendum,” which means residents could force a referendum on any future refinancing resolution by petition.

Which leads back to the park proposal.

“If the CPF program is not extended in November and/or we can’t refinance for whatever reason,” Mr. Walter said at Thursday’s Town Board work session, the town can’t commit to spending a lot of money on the proposed park.

“I don’t think people are looking for Yankee Stadium here,” said County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), who discussed the issue at the work session. “I think people are looking for a safe, off-the-road park.”

The town resolution vowing to support the proposed “hamlet park” calls for “improvements designed to enhance the pedestrian-friendly nature of the community, provide outdoor activities, including playgrounds and public gathering space, and public access to any or all such improvements.”

Mr. Walter said the town needs to put a cap on the amount it can spend, and board members eventually agreed on $10,000.

Councilman Jim Wooten said the town doesn’t have to limit the expenditures on the park to CPF funds. He said it could use parks and recreation funds, which come from developers in the subdivision process, or general funding, could be used.

Ms. Giglio suggested that much of the work could be done in-house, since the only outside cost would be for gravel to build four parking spaces.

Jamesport civic leaders have also vowed to help create the park.

“I think the county is willing to make this investment in a park in a nice hamlet,” Mr. Krupski said. “I think you should take advantage of that.”

Councilman John Dunleavy added: “And we’re going to make the citizens of Jamesport happy that they’re not going to have stores behind them or a restaurant.”

The site in question was recently purchased by TDG Jamesport Owner, LLC, a group headed by Woodbury developer Robert DiNoto.

The site’s previous owner, a group headed by Julius Klein, had proposed a 42,000-square-foot retail development. Mr. DiNoto initially proposed a similar plan, but changed course to propose an assisted-living facility. Mr. DiNoto also acquired the 33-acre farmland property north of the 9.7 acres. He told the Town Board earlier this year he planned to sell the development rights from that property and keep it as farmland if the assisted-living facility moved forward.

In February, Mr. Krupski submitted bills in the county legislature to acquire the development rights from the farmland, and to acquire the 9.7 acres outright for use as a “hamlet park.” Both bills were since approved by the full legislature in late March.

Mr. DiNoto had met with Mr Krupski and local civic leaders prior to that and did not oppose the move, which requires the county to appraise both properties first.

By law, the county cannot pay more than the appraised value of the land.

“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 told The News-Review in March. ““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.”

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Photo Caption: A view from a neighboring property of the potential Jamesport park site. (Credit: Tim Gannon)