Committee recommending stricter buffers on retail marijuana sales in vicinity of schools, parks and other Riverhead hubs

A committee overseeing marijuana regulations in Riverhead Town has finalized its recommendations on where marijuana businesses will be allowed to operate in town, keeping them away from schools, parks, libraries and places of worship.

At its third public forum Tuesday, the group discussed the size of setbacks around those public spaces, ultimately settling on a 1,000-foot buffer from schools, day care facilities and libraries and 500 feet from amusement areas, parks and beaches, houses of worship and community centers.

The recommendations, which still require Town Board approval, ultimately place tighter restrictions on the placement of retail marijuana centers than what was already in place at the state level, according to Riverhead deputy town attorney Annemarie Prudenti.  The state law prevents retail marijuana sales within 500 feet of schools and 200 feet of churches. 

Under the recommendations of the town committee, marijuana sales would be allowed in areas outside of the buffer zones in zoning districts that allow retail and café operations. 

Because Riverhead Town did not opt out of allowing marijuana sales — by way of a 3-2 Town Board vote — it stands to receive 3% of the 13% sales tax revenue generated on marijuana sales in town. Councilman Ken Rothwell, who voted against opting out along with Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, was appointed to help lead the regulatory committee.

Maps released by the town show the largest area for retail marijuana sales under the proposed restrictions would be along Route 58 in Riverhead.

Steven Kramer of Riverhead was one participant in last week’s meeting who suggested a lesser buffer, saying the town was making the process too onerous. 

“At 1,000 feet, we’re essentially eliminating the entirety of downtown,” he said.

Other community stakeholders, like representatives of the Wading River and Jamesport civic associations said their members are in favor of the expanded buffers.

In downtown Riverhead, there are at least two churches, and several schools, such as the Suffolk County Community College culinary school and the Eastern Suffolk School of Music.  Ms. Prudenti said downtown also has John Lombardi Park, Grangebel Park and will have the Long Island Science Center, which is aimed toward youth and plans to move to the former Swezey’s site. 

The group will present its recommendations to the Town Board at a future work session.