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Inundated with large projects, board still mulling Calverton moratorium

Even with a room filled with people urging them to adopt a moratorium on building in Calverton, the five-member Riverhead Town Board could not muster the three votes needed to do so last week. 

Councilman Tim Hubbard, who supports an 18-month moratorium on new development in the Industrial A, B and C zones in Calverton, said only one other board member seems to support the idea, which was called for by the town Planning Board and by residents and civic groups in Calverton and elsewhere.

If approved, the moratorium would prevent the Town Board and other town agencies from processing applications for projects within the limits of the moratorium area.

The Nov. 15 Town Board meeting was attended by nearly 50 people, many of whom were there to urge the board to adopt the moratorium. Eight people spoke in favor of a moratorium and two opposed it, including a representative of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The call for a moratorium arose after several large industrial warehouse-type projects were proposed in Calverton.

These include HK Ventures, a proposed 412,629-square-foot industrial complex on Route 25; Riverhead Logistics Center, a 641,000-square-foot warehouse facility planned for Middle Road; Calverton OSTAD, a 130-acre industrial subdivision on Route 25; and at least eight other large commercial projects.

Those who spoke on Nov. 15 said the Calverton hamlet cannot handle the amount of industrial development being proposed, and that the town needs to look at the cumulative impact of all the projects located there, rather than review them separately.

Jenn Hartnagel of the Group for the East End said Tuesday that 2.5 million square feet of development is currently proposed in Calverton — and that doesn’t include any building at the Enterprise Park.

“This will surely impact our quality of life,” said Danielle Kilfoyle of Calverton.

“We certainly have been inundated with numerous applications for warehouse-type buildings,” said Mr. Hubbard said last Thursday. He said he hopes the moratorium can slow development while the town comprehensive plan is being completed.

Councilman Bob Kern said he supports a moratorium but not one that is a “blanket” that captures everything within the proposed moratorium area. He argued there must be exceptions for uses that are “benign.”

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said the entire board wants to limit development in Calverton, but that other issues must be considered, such as the impact on the tax base and the fact that industrial projects will not add children to the school district.

Councilman Ken Rothwell asked what would happen if a moratorium expired before the comprehensive plan is finished. Mr. Hubbard said it could be extended in that case.

Some board members expressed concern that enacting a moratorium would lead to a lawsuit against the town.

Town attorney Erik Howard said that, under state law, none of the proposals is currently vested and that their developers would therefore be unable to prevail in a lawsuit.

He defined “not vested” as meaning that the developers have not yet made any substantial expenditures or initiated construction. 

“If you are not vested, you have no right to build there,” he said.

None of the projects currently proposed has the approvals needed to build and most of them also need variances from the town Zoning Board of Appeals, according to officials.

Mr. Kern said he would like to see exemptions to the moratorium, but Mr. Howard said exemptions make the town more vulnerable to lawsuits. He said just basing the moratorium on whether the project is vested is a safer route.

Mr. Hubbard and Mr. Rockwell agreed that they would support a six-month moratorium that could be extended, if needed.

Mr. Howard said none of the projects is likely to be vested six months from now. If that is the case, Mr. Rothwell asked, why is a moratorium even needed?

Jefferson Murphree, the town’s building and planning administrator, said that without a moratorium, there is likely to be a flood of new applications once the town indicates it is considering changing the zoning.

Board members asked Mr. Murphree to prepare a hearing notice on a six-month moratorium and to look into what exemptions could be allowed during such a moratorium.