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Tri-Board meeting a step toward improved communication

The Riverhead Town Board met with the Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board Thursday evening in a rare Tri-Board meeting to increase intergovernmental communication and address common concerns.

“That’s what we’re doing tonight, trying to figure out what we can do better,” newly-elected Councilwoman Catherine Kent said. “… I hope people feel comfortable about bringing up things that we can do better. We certainly have to make things better for the applicant.”

After each department’s attorneys gave a briefing of what their respective boards roles are in the town, officials got into discussion on many aspects of town planning, like State Environmental Quality Review determinations and special permits.

The State Environmental Quality Review Act requires most projects or activities proposed by a state agency or local government to under an environmental impact assessment. Anything from site plans, zone changes, subdivisions, and infrastructure can be subject to SEQR review. Jeffrey Seeman, Riverhead Town’s environmental planner, gave recommendations Thursday related to SEQR.

Mr. Seeman said he wants to consider the planning department and town attorneys among all the boards as a central clearing house for any questions regarding SEQR. He also suggested the town may want to codify its own SEQR rules. Most importantly, he suggested creating an environmental review group with members from each board.

“Other recommendations include selecting members from each of the boards to periodically meet as an environmental review group to exchange ideas and perhaps streamline communication so applicants are not sent back and forth due to environmental purposes,” Mr. Seeman said.

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said that went along with her goal to increase communication among the three boards.

“The idea of having a member of each board meet to be able to keep the conversation going is really important and I think that was a big takeaway from the meeting,” she said afterward.

ZBA member Frank Seabrook brought up the need for clarification of the sign code because there are two many variations between the different types of signs permitted. Ms. Jens-Smith responded by saying business owners can expect more enforcement of signage in the future.

“[Enforcement] is a challenge because people have put up a lot of signs and it’s not only what is permitted but have added signs to that,” Ms. Jens-Smith said. “We’re trying to discuss how to approach that.”

She said the board is reviewing sign code and plans on reaching out to businesses with signs, giving them a time period to come up to code and then strictly enforcing it after.

On another topic, ZBA attorney Dawn Thomas said she wanted to see a small lot ordinance to grant those with smaller lots to develop without having to go through the ZBA, which other members agreed was a good idea.

Planning Board member George Nunnaro also brought up the idea of implementing a computer program to allow applicants to see what step in the process their application is at.

“We’re working toward that as we’re getting the data into the system, it will be more accessible to the public,” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said.

“I think the big takeaway from today was communication,” Ms. Jens-Smith said after the meeting. “If we’re going to serve the public well we need to be able to communicate with each other so a big takeaway is efficiency.”

Photo: Members of Riverhead’s Town Board, ZBA and Planning board met Thursday evening. (Credit: Rachel Siford)

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