Judges urge town to move courts to Route 58 armory building

Riverhead Town Justices Allen Smith and Lori Hulse are urging the Town Board to resurrect a plan to convert the Route 58 armory building into a police and justice court headquarters, a plan board members had all but abandoned in light of the project’s cost.

The two judges made their plea at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting, with Judge Smith reading a letter from himself and Judge Hulse asking the board to get new price estimates for the armory project and to approve a resolution authorizing a bond for the work before the end of the year, when Supervisor Sean Walter and Councilman John Dunleavy leave office.

Mr. Smith said Mr. Walter and Mr. Dunleavy are familiar with the armory project.

“Quite frankly, we don’t want to have to start over again,” Mr. Smith said.

After the National Guard left the armory, the town convinced the state to turn the 5.7-acre armory property over to the town, which it did on Nov. 21, 2011, for use as a police headquarters and justice court complex.

The state legislation giving it to the town stated that if it could not be used for police, justice court, public safety and recreational programs developed and operated by the police, it would revert back to the state.

Judge Smith and former Judge Richard Ehlers, who has since retired, had appeared before the Town Board on several instances urging them to improve the current court, which they said is too small and unsafe, and lacks parking and jury deliberation rooms.

In Sept. 2013, the town paid $87,500 for an architectural and engineering study on the current court, and on the cost of the armory project.

That study said the current court and police headquarters were “grossly inadequate in terms of space, security and parking.”

In May 2014, the architects estimated the cost of the armory project at $13 million.

Town Board members began backing off the armory project after hearing that estimate.

Earlier this year, a majority of board members said they favored selling the property, which would require state legislation.

Mr. Smith said the current bond market has had interest rates as low as 3 percent.

“I submit to you that this favorable municipal bond market will never be seen again,” Mr. Smith said. “I’ve been practicing law for 50 years in the municipal field and I have never seen, nor do I anticipate that I will never see again, three-percent bonds.”

Mr. Dunleavy was the only board member who responded to the judge’s plea Tuesday.

“Yes, they do need it,” Mr. Dunleavy said of the police department and court upgrade. “That I know.”

Mr. Walter and Mr. Dunleavy leave office at the end of the year, and their replacements, Supervisor-elect Laura Jens-Smith and Councilwoman-elect Catherine Kent, were in attendance Tuesday when Mr. Smith spoke.

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