County eying riverfront property for preservation

Suffolk County officials are considering the purchase of a 16-acre former duck farm site on the Peconic River for preservation, according to Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue).

The property, located on the south side of West Main Street, east of Forge Road, is currently owned by Larry Simms, formerly of South Jamesport.

If acquired, the Town of Riverhead would maintain the property and could potentially develop the site into a park. According to Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, in order to do that, a concept plan must be submitted for county officials to review that shows what the town may be interested in using the site for down the line.

“Anything you’d like to see there not just this year but even 20 years from now has to be within the concept plan when the land is acquired if indeed they are able to come to an agreement with the landowner,” she said at a town work session Thursday.

Without the plan, she said, “You could never put a trail in there, you could never put a parking area in there. It wouldn’t be user friendly and accessible to the public.”

The site is located just west of a county-owned riverfront parcel with a kayak launch. It is intersected by a LIPA-owned property that town officials would seek an easement along to eventually connect the two properties.

“It would create quite a nice access to the Peconic River which we’re always looking to highlight,” Ms. Jens-Smith said.

Town engineers presented a conceptual design for a future park at the work session.

It includes a parking area with 14 stalls and two handicap stalls, a prefabricated restroom structure, two wildlife viewing decks and a 2,130-foot, elevated boardwalk that could eventually connect the site with the eastern boat launch.

Town Engineer Drew Dillingham said the boardwalk and viewing decks would be constructed using TimberTech materials. “It’s the same boardwalk we have at the beaches,” he said.

A recently-filmed drone video shown by Deputy town engineer Ernesto Rosini shows the current state of the overgrown property.

“There’s a lot of invasive species there, but there is water access,” Mr. Rosini said, pointing out patches of Japanese knotweed and Phragmites.

The project, which could cost up to $1.6 million, would be subject to DEC approval since it lies within the boundaries of the state’s Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act.

The trails at Enterprise Park at Calverton, Mr. Dillingham said, cost approximately $800,000 to construct and are widely used.

“It sounds expensive to maintain,” said Councilwoman Jodi Giglio after the presentation. She said removing the invasive species could prove costly due to DEC permits and a management plan.

“Our focus should be enhancing our existing parks, not creating new parks,” Ms. Giglio said.

Mr. Simms, who purchased the property in 2007, tried unsuccessfully to develop the property by seeking variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

“The challenges to develop this property by de facto leave it as open space,” Ms. Giglio said.

“I’m not willing to bet on that,” Councilwoman Catherine Kent said, adding that it was “short-sighted” to turn down a preservation opportunity.

The town would not be obligated to complete the project, the supervisor said, but noted that grant funding could eventually help fund the park.

“We have talked time and time again about having riverfront access for our community. This would allow us the ability to achieve it at some point,” she said.

Ms. Giglio said there are other properties along the riverfront that she’d like to see prioritized for preservation and said the board should have been able to weigh in before engineers designed the plan.

The county has not yet approved a resolution to appraise the land, Mr. Krupski said in an interview Friday.

“Land preservation is a voluntary program,” he said, noting that Mr. Simms had expressed interest in offering up the property for preservation.

After walking the site, Mr. Krupski saw potential for birding and water recreation. “It’s real meaningful waterfront access, and you want to preserve that use,” he said. “Today it seems important but for the next generation, it’ll be even more important to have that access.”

Councilmen Tim Hubbard and James Wooten both agreed that the concept design worked on paper.

“Knowing our finances, we’re not in the situation to do this right now, but the overall picture is still the preservation of open space,” Mr. Hubbard said. “In terms of getting back to the county, I could live with this.”

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Photo caption: The county wants to preserve  the 16-acre former duck farm site on West Main Street. (Cyndi Zaweski photo)