When a couple dozen residents of the Aquebogue-Jamesport corridor showed up at Riverhead’s town board work session Thursday morning to hear the town’s plan to study the Main Road corridor through their little chunk of the town, many said they don’t believe such a study is in the best interest of their neighborhoods.
Joan Zaniskey came to the meeting on behalf of the Friends of the Rural Aquebogue Corridor, a committee of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition.
“It is our intention to try and defeat this study. We do not see that this study will benefit us in Aquebogue in any way shape or form,” she told the town board. “If agencies responsible for ensuring laws enforce the laws in town, we don’t need to change zoning laws in Aquebogue.”
Town Supervisor Sean Walter pitched the study to the community this January after residents became overwhelmed by the unprecedented number of development proposals being examined in Jamesport.
At Thursday’s work session, consultant Frank Fish of BFJ Planning laid out a potential timeline for the study, which involved two workshops this spring, a report developed over the summer months, and environmental review and public hearings this fall. Mr. Walter said that, given the time it would take the town to prepare contracts, the study timeline would likely be shifted a couple months later.
But many attendees don’t want the study done at all.
When asked for a show of hands of people in favor of the corridor study, one woman raised hers. A half dozen people raised their hands when asked if they were opposed to study, while a smattering of others raised their hands when asked if they hadn’t made a decision yet.
Larry Simms of Save Main Road told the board he doesn’t have any issues with the way the study was laid out by Mr. Fish, but “the question is whether this is the best tool to address the problems we face.”
He said the town could spend $750 on a couple hours of consulting time to have a few issues addressed, including a a zoning anomaly that affects five parcels in the business district that he believes was enacted by the town in the 1980s in error.
But Town Supervisor Sean Walter said that, if the town addresses just those areas, the town would be accused of spot zoning.
Mr. Simms disagreed with that assessment.
“What happened in the ’80s was spot zoning,” he said, adding that, because the property owners had not yet built on that property, the town would have a stronger case in court.
Mr. Walter, an attorney, said that initial mistake “cuts across the Town of Riverhead.”
“If we hone in on the one, two or three questions you have, that is going to hurt us when those property owners sue us,” he said. “If we focus on the four to five projects that nobody seems to want, the only mechanism to effect change on those four to five projects is to change the zoning. And there’s no other way the town would be sustained except for the town to take a comprehensive look at the corridor. That will be upheld by the courts.”
Mr. Walter said the town could also consider a development moratorium during the corridor study “if that’s what the community wants.”
Angela DeVito of the Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association asked several process-related questions. She asked that meetings for both the general community and the business community be held together “so everyone knows where we are and what we’re talking about.”
She also asked that traffic studies be conducted during peak busy times along the corridor, especially during the fall pumpkin-picking season, and that the studies also focus on the use of Peconic Bay Boulevard as a bypass.
“It’s a winding road with a 30 mile per hour speed limit, but most people travel at about 50,” she said. “It has no sidewalks, and people recreate in the street.”
By the end of the session, there was no consensus on whether to go forward with the study.
“Now we’re either going to do you guys or I’m going to talk to the town board about Route 58,” said Mr. Walter. “During the last election, everyone screamed that we need to update the master plan. If we don’t do it here, what I’m going to say to the board is ‘let’s turn our attention to Route 58, where we’re on the cusp of having a problem.’”
At the urging of North Fork County Legislator Al Krupski, the Suffolk County Legislature is considering potential acquisition of the Sharpers Hill property on the north side of Route 25 across from the Elbow Room, which is currently considered for a shopping center known as Jamesport Commons.
The county is considering getting appraisals to purchase the development rights on the back 34 acres of the property and to purchase the front nine acres as open space.
Jamesport residents plan to travel to Hauppauge next Tuesday, March 22 to speak in favor of the proposal at the legislature’s 4 p.m. public comment period.