Questions remain on land preservation

Riverhead Town Board members still have some reservations on Suffolk County’s plans to preserve a 16-acre property along the Peconic River.

County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) attended a work session last Thursday to discuss the acquisition in more detail. 

“The problem with land preservation is there’s only one time to do it, and it’s when you can,” he said, reiterating that the program is “voluntary.”

County officials are considering the purchase of a 16-acre former duck farm site located on the south side of West Main Street east of Forge Road. It is currently owned by Larry Simms, formerly of South Jamesport.

If preserved, the Town of Riverhead could eventually develop the site into a park, but would need to submit a conceptual plan at the time of preservation in order to do that.

Last month, board members argued over the merits of preserving the property, which is overgrown with invasive species like Japanese knotweed and Phragmites.

The $1.6 million concept plan includes a parking area, wildlife viewing decks, bathrooms and a raised trail that one day could connect to a boat launch site the county already owns to the east of the parcel.

Town Board members Jodi Giglio, Tim Hubbard and James Wooten all expressed concerns over town funds being used for the “perpetual upkeep” of the property. “I think it’s a great purchase as far as preserving what we need for the estuary … I’m a little worried about what the town will have to undertake,” Mr. Wooten said.

Ms. Giglio said that due to restrictive zoning and other development challenges, the property is already preserved in a way.

But Mr. Krupski said similar parcels in neighboring areas are still being preserved. “There’s a lot in the Mastic-Shirley area, there are some in Wading River that you would consider unbuildable for anything … but they’re being preserved because of stormwater resiliency concerns, and there’s concerns about if they’re in private hands what could happen in the future.”

As an example, he pointed out a parcel next to the McDonald’s in Riverside that was preserved with passive county funds. 

“There was no provision for parking or access or a trail or anything and as a result, there’s a beautiful parcel on the river that can’t be accessed by the public,” he said.

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said the concept plan isn’t necessarily a commitment, but allows the town to have foresight into the future of the property.

Mr. Krupski said the county legislature’s environment, agriculture and planning committee has been tabling a resolution authorizing the appraisal of the property and will hold off until the town makes a decision. 

He suggested the town’s concept plan be revised to reflect more simple, passive uses for the property, but added it would be “very difficult” to add anything not laid out in that plan in the future. 

“That’s gonna give the next generation some use out of that parcel,” he said.

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