Editorial: As election nears, issues in both towns take shape

We are nearing the conclusion of another town election cycle, with Nov. 5 just two and a half weeks away. In Riverhead and Southold, the candidates are taking their messages to the people by knocking on doors and putting out ads touting their accomplishments in office or what they will do if elected.

In Riverhead, the tone of campaigns by both parties feels more pointed than in previous years. The future of the Enterprise Park at Calverton and just what downtown Riverhead will look like are two major issues nearly every election cycle. They are again major issues this year, as are overcrowded housing and code enforcement.

In Southold, the issues are, in some ways, also carryovers from previous election seasons: open space, farmland preservation, affordable housing, traffic and the future of wineries and beer gardens. The incumbents tout their accomplishments in areas such as water quality, economic development, environmental sustainability and open space preservation.

Their Democratic opponents say the incumbents have controlled the board for far too long, without any critical back and forth, and have failed farmers, families and quality-of-life issues. They say it’s long past time for real change and different voices and faces on the board. They say new faces on the board will help the town more quickly address critical issues.

The Democrats also say “we can do better,” and the GOP response comes down to, “OK, how?”

In Riverhead, EPCAL looms large due to the possible sale of 1,643 acres of town-owned land for $40 million, which to many ears sounds like the bargain of all bargains for a massive piece of open space. Consider that there are houses on the South Fork that sell for close to that price. Supporters of the sale say the acreage has the potential to be redeveloped into a high-tech aviation and technology center.

If preserved in its entirety, which would be ideal, it would be the second largest tract of publicly owned parkland on Long Island, after Jones Beach State Park.

As for downtown Riverhead, previous boards have sought to attract apartment complexes, which would bring in new residents and potential shoppers and which, in turn, would attract other types of businesses. Now, many town residents and some town officials are having second thoughts. To date, three apartment complexes have been built, another is under construction and several more are in the pipeline.

Joining these issues is one that’s burning a bit hotter in this cycle: overcrowded and illegal housing and the work of town code enforcement officers to address those issues. The issue is front and center this election cycle, in large part because Riverhead Central School District is proposing a $$73.5 to $87.9 million bond to deal with increasing enrollment and packed classrooms.

Many residents see a link between the issue of classroom overcrowding and overcrowded housing. They say better enforcement of code defining how many people are allowed to live in one home would address the problem. The backdrop to this issue — for some residents, anyway — is the growing Latino population in the town and the school district.

On Nov. 5, voters in both Southold and Riverhead can decide for themselves what the future should look like.