Pictured Above: Riverhead Town Supervisor Candidates Tim Hubbard and Angela DeVito.

The current Riverhead Town Board’s decision to cancel the deal to sell much of the land at the Enterprise Park at Calverton has changed the campaign calculus of candidates in the closing days of this year’s election, but there are plenty of other issues that still vex the town at the gateway to the Twin Forks, from efforts to revitalize Riverhead’s downtown to civility at town hall to protecting the town from developers and drafting a comprehensive plan.

Republican candidates, for the most part, said at candidate forums sponsored by civic associations this September that they plan to continue the work they’ve set in motion downtown, while Democrats questioned whether some of their plans are wise, while Democrats have focused after several years of open hostility between the town board and the public on returning civility to town hall, working on long-range planning and being willing to say no to developers. 

Sitting Councilman Tim Hubbard, a retired Riverhead Town Police Detective, is the Republican candidate for Supervisor. His Democratic opponent is Angela DeVito, a longtime public health professional and civic leader. Her running mates for two open town board seats include attorney Andrew Leven and music educator Rene Suprina.

Mr. Hubbard’s running mates are current Riverhead Planning Board chair and title examiner Joann Waski and Denise Merrifield, a retired Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney and law professor who had worked in both the county’s Homicide Bureau and as the Deputy Bureau Chiefs of the Child Abuse and Domestic Violence and Major Crimes bureaus.

At a Sept. 23 Heart of Riverhead Civic Association debate moderated by Denise Civiletti of Riverhead Local, Ms. DeVito questioned whether the town is “actually building a community that offers housing choices for people of all incomes, and the amenities they need to live there.”

She added that the town recently passed a code that prohibits medical offices downtown.

“The town needs to be a bit more adhering to smart growth principals,” she said, adding that the town needs to keep a 500-unit cap on apartments that can be built downtown.

“We have changed the character of our downtown area immensely, and I don’t think it’s for the better,” she added. “We have canyons there now, like in New York City.”

Mr. Hubbard said he believes the Town Square project, partially funded by a $3.24 million Downtown Revitalization Grant from New York State, which includes restaurants, a hotel, retail shops and condos for full-time homeowners, will help revitalize downtown, along with a parking garage behind the Suffolk Theater and a transit-oriented development underway by the train station a few blocks north.

“I’m so excited for the things we’re doing, and I hope to be able to see them come to fruition as the next town supervisor,” he said. 

(l-r) Moderator Sid Bail and Riverhead Town Board candidates Joann Waski, Denise Merrifield, Rene Suprina and Andrew Leven at the Calverton/Wading River debate

Town Board candidates had nuanced positions on redevelopment downtown. Ms. Suprina said she would like more housing to be built on the west end of Main Street, and the town set back apartments from the road similar to recent housing developments in Patchogue. 

Ms. Merrifield said that clustering apartments downtown is helpful, and more condominiums will “help full-time homebuyers have an actual stake in the community.” She also said she wasn’t opposed to lifting the cap on apartments.

Ms. Waski also said she sees condos as key to help the children of Riverhead residents remain in the community.

“They would be solely for first-time homebuyers, our children,” she said, adding that she’s encouraged to see the Railroad Avenue development be part of that plan.

“I would tend to be against father densification in downtown,” said Mr. Leven, who added that he believes town leaders need “to balance between the need to revitalize and the rights of property owners.”

Mr. Leven and Ms. Merrifield, who were both prosecutors, have been trading barbs throughout the campaign, which came to a head as the candidates discussed how to make downtown safer.

Ms. Merrified said she would like to see sober houses moved out of downtown, and prisoners released from the Riverhead jail be given a bus pass home so they wouldn’t be “dumped off in our community.”

She also said she would continue current Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar’s executive order “not letting unvetted migrants into our community.”

“These people, after conviction, get deported and come right back into the United States under an alias,” she said.

Riverhead was the only town on Long Island that issued an executive order this spring banning migrants seeking asylum in New York City from being housed within the town, despite no proof that migrants were coming to Riverhead.

“It’s not a good idea for any community to have unfunded mandates and chaos — if  it was a solid program, with a plan and funding, Riverhead has to be part of the conversation,” said Mr. Leven. “But right now, the emergency decrees are hypothetical. If it actually becomes a real problem, maybe an emergency decree would make sense, but right now I don’t think it’s the right way to go.”

Ms. Suprina and Ms. Waski, both the mothers of Riverhead police officers, said they would like downtown to be more safe.

Ms. Suprina said she would like to see better lighting and a police substation downtown.

Ms. Waski said she agreed with Ms. Suprina, and also that she thinks “it’s important for us as a community to engage more downtown, so there is more of a presence here,” encouraging residents to visit restaurants and shops downtown.

Over the past two years, Ms. Aguiar’s trademark public interaction style at town board meetings has been to criticize speakers who air their grievances before the board. As she steps down after two years as Town Supervisor, both candidates for her job pledged to do better. 

Ms. DeVito said her top priority is to “begin restoring trust in the community of our local government, and respect in town hall when people come in.” 

She also pledged to provide greater public access to town documents.

Mr. Hubbard agreed that “transparency for me is a big thing,” and promised lengthy work sessions at which the board would go over all the resolutions on upcoming town board meeting agendas. —BHY

Read our prior coverage from the Greater Calverton Civic Association Debate for Riverhead Town office

Videos of Candidate Forums

Below are links to videos of the three Riverhead town candidate forums sponsored by Civic Associations this fall:

Heart of Riverhead Civic Association Town Supervisor Candidate Debate

Heart of Riverhead Civic Association Town Board Candidate Debate

Greater Jamesport Civic Association Town Supervisor Candidate Debate

Greater Jamesport Civic Association Town Board Candidate Debate

Calverton/Wading River Candidate Night

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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