Sound Ave ‘agritourism resort’ proposal put on hold

Riverhead officials are pressing pause on plans to vote on a controversial code change that would allow for agritourism resorts along Sound Avenue after the town and the farming community were unable to come to an agreement on the balance of preservation and development.

At a board meeting this week, Town Supervisor Tim Hubbard said debate about the plan would continue but expressed skepticism that a deal could be reached to satisfy everyone.

“Attempts to land on what might be an appropriate balance between preserving the agricultural heritage of our area and allowing for development in the form of agritourism inns and resorts … remains a source of ongoing discussion and debate,” Mr. Hubbard said. “And quite frankly, it remains to be seen whether the perfect balance exists.”

The proposal as written would allow for “agritourism inns and resorts” on minimum 100-acre plots of unpreserved land north of Sound Avenue — provided that 70% of the acreage is preserved for agricultural use in perpetuity and a maximum of 30% used for the resort and amenities such as restaurants or spas. 

The plan also included a requirement that the developed portions of the parcels not be visible from Sound Avenue — meaning those tourism uses would likely be built on the waterfront overlooking Long Island Sound. 

Last fall at a Riverhead Town Board meeting, Deputy Town Attorney Annemarie Prudenti estimated there are roughly 7,000 acres of unpreserved land in Riverhead, and approximately seven properties that meet the proposed requirements.

Despite the pause, two board members expressed support for pushing ahead with the development initiative. Councilman Ken Rothwell said he believes the concept is a win-win for farmers and developers.

“The initial effort was put forth to provide an opportunity for farmers to sell TDRS [Transfer of Development Rights],” Mr. Rothwell said. “The idea of this legislation is to put an influx of money into a farming community to have a 70/30 split where 70% of a project in its development would be in the soil farms and 30% could be development.”

He also noted that “we’re not building large scale hotels on Sound Ave. I want to preserve and protect not just the historical values of it, but also the beautification of it.”

Councilman Bob Kern said he too still believes in the plan.

“Having liaisoned to the [Agriculture] Advisory Committee, I can’t believe how close this is and I thought for sure this would happen … and it would be resolved. So I’m going to do everything I can to see this happen because I think it’s really great thing for TDRs, preserving farmland and helping farming in general.”

In February, the Town Board abruptly cancelled a public hearing on the required code changes to allow more time to work with the farming community to come to a compromise.

 Some of the opposition to the rezoning stretched beyond Riverhead’s boarders.  

Southold Town Councilman Greg Doroski called the proposal “an absolute nightmare,” at a February Southold Town Board work session. “I think there’s nothing they could do that would disturb that historic corridor more than this … as we look at our traffic problems, as we look at that bottleneck that’s created [at the intersection of Edwards and Sound avenues] — this is going to amplify it by 100.”

The decision to table the resorts initiative marks the second instance in recent weeks of a controversial development plan on Sound Ave. being shot down due local opposition. Last month, the Riverhead Charter School dropped plans to build a new high school and campus on Sound Ave. in Northville after an outcry from area residents who said the new campus would exacerbate traffic and diminish community character.