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Town officials outline next steps for update to comprehensive plan

Farmland preservation and improving Riverhead’s transfer of development rights program were two issues frequently cited in surveys undertaken last year as part of Riverhead’s comprehensive plan update.

Jefferson Murphree, Riverhead’s building and planning administrator, said the goal is to have a draft document completed by the end of summer.

In 2021, the town conducted interviews with stakeholders and officials, held hamlet-focused meetings, meetings on specific topics, published public surveys and interactive maps in order to get public feedback on how to improve the town by updating the comprehensive plan.

The results began to be tabulated toward the end of December and efforts to gather more information will resume in a slightly different form this year, Mr. Murphree said at Thursday’s work session.

The town plans to formally adopt the plan in the spring of 2023. The plan also will have to undergo an environmental impact statement as well.

The survey that ran on the town website from Aug. 6, 2021 to Jan. 24, 2022 had 470 responses tabulated, Mr. Murphree said.

Critical issues identified through the survey were: Farmland and open space preservation; reuse of vacant retail space on Route 58; reduced traffic congestion; downtown revitalization and natural resources and environmental protection.

The information can be viewed online here.

The town will next combine the hamlet meetings with the topic meetings and gather further community input, Mr. Murphree said. The process will began toward the end of March and early April, he said. The next set of meetings will be held virtually and at Riley Avenue School. The first set were held virtually and at the Senior Center in Aquebogue, and officials wanted to spread the meetings out. Some of the meetings also were held in Town Hall. 

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said fixing the transfer of development rights program, which has never worked as officials hoped, is one of her top goals of the update. The TDR program enables owners of land that is intended to be preserved to sell development rights from that property to owners of properties where increased development is deemed appropriate. 

Councilman Frank Beyrodt said that currently, the town lacks a method to bring owners of sending and receiving sites together. In the past, officials discussed setting up a bank where owners of sending and receiving areas would know what’s available, he said. 

“But it always seemed like a conflict to have the town administer the program,” Mr. Beyrodt said. 

The TDR program has no cost to taxpayers, he said. 

The town would have have to designate what land is in a sending area and what land is in a receiving area for development rights.

The Town Code currently lists land in the Agricultural Protection Zone district as sending areas. The Town Code lists 10 different zones as receiving areas, including some commercial zones and some residential zones. 

“The transfer development rights have been an issue for a very long time,” Ms. Aguiar said.

Other issues mentioned in surveys include making sure the 1,000-plus acres at the Enterprise Park at Calverton is preserved. That land is officially part of the 1,643 acres proposed to be sold to Calverton Aviation & Technology.

The supervisor also wants the Pattern Book to have its recommendations adopted into town law. 

The Town Board hired AKRF Environmental Planning and Engineering Consultants in 2019 to undergo the upgrade for $675,000.

Mr. Beyrodt said he has gotten a lot of requests to make Sound Avenue an historic corridor. Mr. Murphree said there are functional problems with Sound Avenue that make it difficult for large oil trucks entering or leaving United Riverhead Terminal to avoid driving into oncoming lanes. 

Another issue officials discussed in affordable housing. 

“There is a demand for affordable rental units,” Mr. Murphree said. He said some people mentioned there should be rental housing on Route 58, which he doesn’t support.

Councilman Tim Hubbard said an entry level dwelling for $200,000 doesn’t exist; $500,000 is the new normal, he said.

“Affordable housing is $1,900 per month for a one-bedroom apartment downtown,” he said. “That’s not affordable to a lot of young people.”

“One thing we touched upon, which was a real lightning rod, is the issue of hamlet boundaries and where are they located,” Mr. Murphree said. “We tried to formulate a consensus on where the boundaries are, but it’s not going to happen. Everybody has their own opinion as to where the boundaries are. We understand the community identities and respect them.”

Mr. Hubbard said hamlet boundaries can affect property values. He said a house advertised as being in Aquebogue could sell more that one advertised as Riverhead.

Councilman Ken Rothwell asked how the comp plan will address overcrowding in schools. 

“That’s not an easy answer,” Mr. Murphree said.