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Citing slow progress, Town Board to terminate contract with company it hired for Comprehensive Plan update

The Riverhead Town Board plans to terminate the contract with AKRF Environmental Planning and Engineering Consultants, nearly three years after engaging the Holbrook firm to update the town’s master plan.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar announced the decision Friday. The Town Board can vote on the measure at its next meeting on July 6.

“In the interest of protecting taxpayer dollars, and at the behest of the planning director, and on the advice of counsel, the Town Board has unanimously agreed to sever the agreement with AKRF and retain the services of a different consultant to complete this critically important process of updating our Comprehensive Plan — our roadmap for the future of the Town of Riverhead,” the release said. 

In October 2019, the board voted to hire AKRF for up to $675,000. Only Councilman Tim Hubbard has remained a board member since that vote.

The agreement required AKRF to perform and fulfill certain milestones and objectives over the course of the approximately 18-month process, according to the supervisor. 

“Planning staff and town officials have grown increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of progress and shallow depth of study put forth by AKRF, to date,” Ms. Aguiar said, acknowledging that the COVID-19 pandemic also may have impacted the process. 

Planning director Jefferson Murphree has begun to meet with other firms that specialize in the Comprehensive Plan process and will soon receive proposals, Ms. Aguiar said, adding that the The Town Board plans to move swiftly to select a new consultant and complete the Comprehensive Plan process.

The town had applied $200,000 from a $1.5 million Community Benefits Agreement toward the master plan update. The money came the developer of a solar farm in Calverton. To date, according to the town accounting department, AKRF has been paid $320,780.

Bob White, senior vice president at AKRF, who represented the community at master plan meetings, did not return calls seeking comment on the pending termination.

A company spokesperson issued the following statement:

“AKRF was very disappointed to learn of the Town of Riverhead’s decision on Friday. We care deeply about our planning work for Long Island communities and stand by our responsiveness and the quality of our work. While we would prefer to complete this important work for the Town, we respect their decision to move in a different direction. We wish Riverhead success as they build on AKRF’s work and continue updating their 2003 Comprehensive Plan.”

Meetings on the master plan update were open to the public and also shown live via Zoom. The town held some of the meetings at Town Hall, as those held at Riley Avenue Elementary School in Calverton were poorly attended and had some technical difficulties with Zoom.

“It certainly caught me by surprise,” Wading River Civic Association president Sid Bail said of the town’s decision. “But it had been going very, very slowly.”

Mr. Bail was appointed to the central advisory committee for the master plan update after residents criticized town for not including any representatives of the civic or environmental groups in the process.

Mr. Bail said the CAC last met in March “and we really didn’t accomplish much.”

He questioned whether other firms seeking to replace AKRF would “jump on board or just avoid the entire project.”