Efforts to update town’s Comprehensive Plan begin anew as consulting firm launches website

The long anticipated update to Riverhead Town’s comprehensive plan will begin later this month with the launch of a website and a summary of the work that has already been conducted, according to Noah Levine of BFJ Planning, the firm recently hired to complete the update.

The Town Board had originally hired AKRF Environmental Planning and Engineering Consultants of Holbrook, NY in October 2019 to update the town’s master plan for the first time since 2003.  

The board voted unanimously last June to fire AKRF, citing the “slow pace of process and shallow depth of study” in their work. 

BFJ is to be paid $422,000 remaining under that contract. At the time of its dismissal, AKRF had already been paid $320,780, nearly half of the total agreed upon fee of $675,000.

BFJ will be paid an additional $10,000 to study the issues surrounding the development of battery energy storage systems in Riverhead. 

According to Mr. Levine, the company plans to work with a town-appointed committee that will guide progress and monitor timelines.

Town officials said AKRF did not meet with any of the committees the town had set up to consult on the comprehensive plan update, which was one of several reasons why officials decided to terminate the agreement with the company. “We will be working closely with [the Town Board] as well as with the comprehensive plan committee,” Mr. Levine said. “That committee is in the process of being refined. Once that committee is established, we hope to meet with them as soon as possible.”

The role of the special committee will be to help establish public outreach programs, provide input on challenges and opportunities and ensure the plan is representative of the needs of the wider community, according to BFJ. 

A number of working groups also will be established to advise on issues such as agriculture, housing, economic development and transportation. 

The timeline for completion of the plan update is 14 months, according to BFJ. Work will commence this month with a meeting and a summary of prior work, to be followed by a series of stakeholder meetings.

In March, an introductory workshop is planned, as well as a second committee meeting and additional stakeholder meetings. In April there will be a third committee meeting, which will include reports on planning goals, issues and opportunities. 

The May schedule calls for an initial draft of the plan update to be presented. 

“Hopefully by the end of the year, we’ll have a draft plan,” Mr. Levine said. He said the company will “synthesize” the work that had been done previously, meet with stakeholders and present a report on the “vision, goals and opportunities” of the update.

“Those reports will give us a firm standing on where we are,” Mr. Levine said. 

The town also asked BFJ to look at the issues surrounding the transfer of development rights. Frank Fish, a principal with BFJ Planning, said that, at the town’s request, the company will look at industrial zones, which have recently been under development pressure. “We will try to maintain a balance in those zones between tax base and environmental protection,” Mr. Fish said. “We will look at battery storage, and solar voltaic,” 

Commercial corridors and downtown areas also will be examined, officials said. 

“We will try our best to get a balance on these issues,” Mr. Fish said.