Pictured Above: (l-r) Riverhead Town Board candidate Andrew Leven, Town Supervisor candidate Angela DeVito and Town Clerk candidate Josephine Makowski at the unveiling of their platform.
In the midst of the greatest groundswell of public concern over unfettered development in decades in the Republican-controlled town of Riverhead, Democratic candidates for Riverhead Town Board gathered Sept. 6 in the blazing heat under the shade of the Grumman F-14 Tomcat memorial on the edge of the Enterprise Park at Calverton to pledge to do things differently.
The event was the unveiling of the Democrats’ platform ahead of this November’s election, in which there are open races for the town supervisor seat being vacated by Yvette Aguiar and for the two town board seats on the currently all-Republican board currently held by Councilman Tim Hubbard, who is running for Town Supervisor and Councilman Frank Beyrodt, who is not seeking re-election.
Democratic Town Supervisor candidate Angela DeVito, a former Riverhead School Board and Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association President who is semi-retired from a career in public health, introduced her team’s platform.
Dubbed C.R.E.A.T.E.S., it’s an acronym for causes on the mind of many in Riverhead these days: Completing the town’s comprehensive plan update, pledging a Responsible town board; committing to Energy and the Environment; Affordability (holding the line on taxes and IDA giveaways); Total Respect for the community, Ending the EPCAL deal and Saving Riverhead.
Flanked by community members wearing maroon t-shirts that read “No Warehouses. No Cargo Airport. Save Riverhead,” Ms. DeVito said Democrats intend to pursue a development moratorium while the town’s long-awaited comprehensive plan is completed, and to end the deal to sell the majority of the land at EPCAL to Calverton Aviation & Technology, which has been in contract to buy the land for nearly five years.
“In the past four years, there have been a lot of starts and no finish” on the comprehensive plan, she said. “The board has spent three quarters of a million dollars on a project they’ve yet to finish, and almost every week there’s a code amendment slipped onto the town agenda.”
She added that just that day, the current town board was holding a public hearing on changes that would significantly weaken the town’s special events code. If elected, she said her administration would make changes to the town’s zoning code based on the findings of a completed comprehensive plan.
Treating community members who speak before the town board with respect also tops her list of concerns, and she said she expected to immediately change the tone set by the current town supervisor, who has in the past gone so far as to call questions asked by speakers at public hearings “stupid.”
She added that she believes a new administration should ask every member of appointed boards and committees to resign so that the town can clean house.
“People have been on the ZBA pushing on 30 years, and they don’t take the required courses,” she said. “We need to look for a broader field of people.”
She added that many qualified people of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds don’t volunteer to serve on town committees or land use boards because they are small business owners who are afraid of retaliation by town government.
One of her running mates for a seat on the town board, attorney Andrew Leven, said that he sees mediocrity when he interacts with town government. Their other town board candidate, Rene Suprina, a music educator, was unable to attend due to a recent injury.
Planning Board Chair Joann Waski and retired Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Denise Merrifield are the Republican’s candidates for town board.
“The current leadership has proven they’re not up to the job. They want to do better, but they can’t,” said Mr. Leven. He added that he believes the current iteration of the EPCAL deal was “methodically structured to blatantly avoid the DEC,” which had not approved the deal before the property was transferred to the town’s Industrial Development Agency last year.
“They transferred it over to an obscure town agency,” he said, “and the agency itself will go bankrupt unless it approves the deal.”
He added that he believes town representatives’ longstanding position that they can’t get out of the CAT contract without being sued wouldn’t withstand legal scrutiny.
“All CAT has now is the opportunity of a transaction,” he said. “You have to have damages if you’re going to recover anything in a lawsuit. Can I sue you? Sure, but am I going to win?”
“No matter what we do, we’re going to be sued,” added Ms. DeVito. “Do we have the courage to say no to the proposal? That’s an issue of character and integrity.”
She added that, while the U.S. Navy’s 1998 transfer of the EPCAL property to Riverhead required the land be used for economic development, the developers “have no concern whatsoever for Riverhead… What is the economic benefit to us?”
Mr. Leven said the town board should pull the decision on the CAT application away from the IDA and put it before the planning board for a true site plan review.
“The IDA is not looking at the type of information that matters,” he said. “This project is totally on spec. All we’re looking at is CAT’s financial ability, and that’s a labyrinth that we don’t have the resources in place for.”
But with a decision from the IDA potentially weeks away, a new town board that takes office in January could be dealing with an application that has already received the agency’s approval.
If that were to happen, “we’ll do the best we can,” said Mr. Leven. “There are going to be 100 decisions after that approval and we need to properly hold them accountable.”
“The world has changed. Riverhead is a target, and mediocrity just doesn’t cut it anymore,” he added.
“We are a team that is for Riverhead. We want to put an end to the mediocrity,” said Ms. DeVito.