A Comp Plan or a Eulogy? Riverhead Debates Its Future
As Riverhead’s new consultants begin work on an update of the town’s Comprehensive Plan, many of the more than 120 residents who showed up for a public input session at The Suffolk Theater April 22 were skeptical of the town’s approach to the planning process, in the midst of unprecedented development pressures.
Topping their concerns is the proposed industrial development of the Enterprise Park At Calverton (EPCAL), where a company called Calverton Aviation and Technology (CAT) is expecting to build ten million square feet of distribution and logistics warehouse space, and another 641,000-square-foot high cube logistics warehouse proposed on Middle Road, also in Calverton.
Riverhead’s last Comprehensive Plan, completed in 2003, is silent on many emerging issues such as the increased demand for high cube warehouse space in a world that expects immediate delivery of consumer goods, and on battery energy storage systems and anaerobic digesters for waste management and biofuels.
A new “well-reasoned plan” is required for the town to make zoning changes that are defensible in court.
Attendees at the forum reported back from seven break-out group discussions that they saw the EPCAL project as a “time bomb sitting out there that can have huge implications on what is happening in the rest of the town,” read Noah Levine of BFJ Planning, the firm hired in January of this year to complete the Comprehensive Plan Update, as he summarized some of the comments from the groups.
“Things have changed in the industrial marketplace,” Mr. Levine acknowledged. “We’re not necessarily coming out in favor of high cube warehouses, but we may need some flexibility in zoning for a balance between the tax base, jobs but also the impact on the community.”
Attorney Andrew Leven, who is running on the Democratic ticket for town board this fall, gave the presentation for his group, saying they were “extremely concerned about the lack of transparency” in the town’s negotiations with Calverton Aviation and Technology, and added that their warehouses could be the destination of as many as 35,000 daily truck trips. CAT had initially pitched their use of the property as a site for aeronautics research and development.
“Various people at our table pointed out the timelines are all wrong here,” added Mr. Leven. “The Master Plan is not going to be finished before EPCAL is approved. We’re not looking for a comp plan that is a eulogy. We’re looking for a comp plan that is a proactive tool to make our lives better.”
The town’s Industrial Development Agency announced this week that it will be holding a public forum with Calverton Aviation and Technology (CAT) on Wednesday, May 3 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Hotel Indigo Ballroom at 1830 West Main Street. While not a formal public hearing, CAT will give an overview of its proposal and take questions from the public.
This comprehensive planning process has suffered several setbacks since it began in 2020. The town cancelled its contract with its former consultants, AKRF Planning, in 2022, after the prior firm missed deadlines and held poorly attended public information sessions in the midst of the pandemic. BFJ was hired in December of 2022 to finish the work, at a cost of $422,000.
“There was discussion about the good attendance at this meeting,” said Mr. Levine of the break-out group he reported on. “The group’s consensus was there was lack of communication about meetings” with the prior consultants.
Janice Scherer of Calverton, who serves as Southampton Town’s Planning and Development Administrator and as a co-chair of Riverhead’s Downtown Revitalization Committee, said many members of her group felt the comprehensive planing process was “a waste of time” in the midst of all the proposed development.
“They were unanimously supportive of a moratorium on a number of issues, especially warehousing,” she added.
The current Riverhead Town Board declined to hold a public hearing on a proposed moratorium on industrial development demanded by the public this past winter, though Councilman Tim Hubbard, now the Republican candidate for Town Supervisor, said he believed in the need for a six-month moratorium and brought legislation creating one to the floor, where it was turned down by three of his fellow board members, including current Republican Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar.
“We hear you, and we share many of your concerns,” said Ms. Aguiar, who is not seeking re-election, at the end of Saturday’s forum. Ms. Aguiar has publicly stated numerous times that she does not believe it is the town board’s job to issue a moratorium.
BFJ Planning has prepared a 14-month timeline for its proposed work, holding stakeholder meetings and preparing summary reports this spring, drafting chapters of the plan and holding additional stakeholder meetings and beginning the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) process this summer.
A second public workshop similar to Saturday’s workshop is being planned for the fall, said Mr. Levine, after which the consultants will release a Draft Comprehensive Plan along with a Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement, as required by SEQRA. The final Comprehensive Plan and the final Environmental Impact Statement are planned to be released next winter.
Details on the ongoing public engagement, as well as earlier town planning documents, will be available on the website townofriverheadcomprehensiveplanupdate.com. The town is also accepting comments at email@example.com.