Equal Time: Riverhead needs a leader with proven track record

What we need is a pragmatic, panoramic view of the issues at hand. Our sitting supervisor, Laura Jens-Smith, toggles from subject to subject identifying her accomplishments. The first half of State of the Town speech tallied her accomplishments. For example, she claimed to have put the water district “back on track.” I beg to differ, as evidenced by prior town meetings. The initiative was led by Councilman Tim Hubbard, Councilman Jim Wooten and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who forced the water district capital plan forward. Our Water District is one of our biggest income generating asset. We need to maintain control.

More specifically, the supervisor claims she wants to redevelop downtown. I would recommend our supervisor focus on getting our zoning issues resolved first. In addition, the Downtown Revitalization Committee created one year ago has not made viable recommendations. Why? Meanwhile, developers are scratching their heads trying to figure out what they can and cannot build and some have recently decided to look elsewhere. Lack of predictability in zoning and a difficult process is counterproductive for revitalization. Instead we should be working with developers to settle on what can be built and the creation of a viable revitalization plan. In a good economy our downtown redevelopment should be vibrant and moving forward. Clearly, it’s has been stalled in Riverhead. Furthermore, to make things more frustrating, most building permit fees are proposed to go up substantially, Sadly resulting in huge ramifications on homeowners. The Master Plan left many lots in Wading River, Reeves Park in Riverhead and properties in South Jamesport as non-conforming. This would mean every shed, deck or small house addition our residents build could cost twice the amount of the current fees. This problem could be easily fixed in the zoning code and not by shifting the weight on the taxpayers. We may also consider implementing lower building costs to entice revitalization efforts.

Another achievement the supervisor claimed is her ability to manage the budget. However, it is critical we look at our town’s crumbling infrastructure (court, vehicles, etc.). We need to maintain control of our water district and police department, while working on revitalizing Main Street. At the present time, while publicly denied by our supervisor, there is a concerted effort by Suffolk County to acquire these two service entities. Once we lose our autonomy, the character and independence of our beautiful town will be lost forever.

While most of the goals seem admirable, no matter what they are, in order to accomplish those goals, a leader needs to be business-minded, organized, methodical and possess leadership skills. EPCAL is an extremely complex property. I ask: What is the supervisor’s plan should legal determination reveal we have to close on the deal? What is the plan if Triple Five doesn’t move forward (rescission)? Do we have contingency plans? Furthermore, where is the marketing plan for the property should we or Triple Five reject the contract based on external legal opinion?

While I agree a fresh look at our Master Plan is necessary, the effort should be completed on a continuous basis in small increments. Small, targeted plans for different areas is a great approach. Addressing the issues with non-conforming lots from the last Master Plan revision is a good start. Bear in mind, this initiative is no small endeavor, will likely cost several hundred thousands of dollars and in all likelihood take approximately two years to complete.

I have plans for success in downtown redevelopment by implementing an incentive zoning plan. This would give developers an expedited (consolidated review) development process for conforming projects that are aesthetically pleasing and strategically located, with open views to the Peconic River — more green space! New zoning can also work for Route 58 and what I anticipate will be many more upcoming vacancies. As a former detective sergeant in the NYPD Counterterrorism division, I know how to use the criminal justice and civil court venues to achieve compliance with the law. As a real estate agent with a Ph.D in business, I know the intricacies between property sales and acquisition. Lastly, overcrowded housing (which also impacts our school district) should be a priority.

It’s enlightening to hear the supervisor’s talk about how great Riverhead can be. Good ideas need an action plan, interpersonal skills and management ability to achieve positive outcomes. What we need is a leader with a proven track record of getting things done. I plan to make Riverhead all that it can be. It’s time to put a real business-minded leader in the driver’s seat.

We need public-private partnerships, which in turn will transcend into a win-win for our town. Especially, the property owners and for the prosperity of our town’s future. In doing so, we will effectively move our town forward cohesively. In business, the mantra is “effective management skills are necessary to accomplish goals.” Bickering and tit-for-tat politics needs to be the way of the past. It would not work in business and it most certainly does not belong in our Town Hall.

Yvette Aguiar is the Republican candidate for Riverhead Town supervisor in the 2019 election.