Councilman Tim Hubbard seeks support for Calverton moratorium

Riverhead Town Councilman Tim Hubbard has proposed two six-month moratoriums — one on industrial development proposals in Calverton, and another on tier II battery energy storage systems in the area. 

Both proposals were recommended by the town planning department, but neither has support from the rest of the Town Board. 

The proposals were discussed at last Thursday’s Town Board work session. 

Dawn Thomas, who heads the planning department, and planner Matt Charters explained the need for the proposals, along with Mr. Hubbard. 

“We have listened to the community, obviously, and we know that a lot of industrial development and industrial land in Calverton is being sought after,” Mr. Hubbard said. 

The initiative is nothing new.

A proposed six-month development moratorium in Calverton was initially put forward by Mr. Hubbard on Dec. 20, 2022, and was rejected by a 3-2 vote in January, despite overwhelming support from residents. 

Mr. Hubbard, who is the Republican candidate for town supervisor, said the point of a moratorium is to “slow things down until we get the comprehensive plan done.”

He said there are about 12 million square feet of industrial space available in Calverton. 

Mr. Charters said the moratorium would not apply to applications that are “type 2,” which do not require extensive review.

Ms. Thomas said Calverton has about 7,000 acres of agricultural land the town wants to preserve. If the town tried to buy that land “out of pocket, it would be a hardship for our residents,” she said. 

The better way to preserve land, she added, is through the transfer of development rights program, which the town is looking to expand. In the past, town officials have said the TDR program was not living up to potential. 

The transfer of development rights process allows land that the town seeks to preserve, such as farmland or open space, to be transferred to available parcels where development is deemed appropriate. 

Developers of proposed warehouse properties in Riverhead have been seeking to build up, as in vertically, rather than out, officials said, which often saves them money and potentially leads to less acreage being developed.

Other board members expressed concern about the moratorium proposal. 

“A moratorium is the most invasive form of limiting people’s property rights,” Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said.

The town has previously considered a moratorium on solar energy proposals “and now we’re going to start talking about a moratorium on industrial land?” Ms, Aguiar said. 

A moratorium “should not be used as a [way] to bypass the Planning Board,” she said.

Councilman Ken Rothwell said he would only support the industrial moratorium if it had a limited time frame.

Councilman Frank Beyrodt said that his main goal is to preserve farmland. 

“I’d like to know the details before we pull the trigger on this,” he said. 

Councilman Bob Kern said he wants to put some of new proposed regulations in place now, rather than wait for the comprehensive plan.

The board also discussed having a six-month moratorium on BESS facilities, which Mr. Hubbard also suggested.

“This is a no-brainer,” he said. “This is a relatively new area with battery energy storage systems. Recently, as everybody is aware, there were two fires upstate and a fire in East Hampton.”

Mr. Hubbard said the purpose of the moratorium would be to give officials time to determine why the BESS were catching fire. 

A state Inter-Agency Fire Safety Working Group, headed by Gov. Kathy Hochul, has been commissioned to look into the issue, Mr. Hubbard noted.. 

On both resolutions, Mr. Hubbard only asked if there was a “second” on his call to set a public hearing for a moratorium. None of the other board members responded.