The new Riverhead Town Board passed a six month moratorium on industrial development in Calverton in a 4-1 vote at its first regular board meeting Jan. 3, overriding a recommendation of the Suffolk County Planning Commission staff that the moratorium be limited to three months.
The board also voted to approve a change in the town’s ‘Planned Development’ zoning use district to prohibit airports from operating in these districts, after great public uproar in 2023 over a proposal to build a cargo airport at the Enterprise Park at Calverton (EPCAL).
The industrial moratorium will be in place as the town works to finalize recommendations in its comprehensive plan update, which include changes to limit the visual impact of industrial buildings, and converting some areas to “light industrial” districts. The changes also include broadening the town’s transfer of development rights program, in which development rights on farmland and open space are transferred to more appropriate areas for intense development.
The meeting was the first with new Supervisor Tim Hubbard at the helm, and as Mr. Hubbard had pledged in his inauguration New Year’s Day, the civility of the conversation between residents and the board was markedly improved over the previous administration, with Mr. Hubbard answering numerous questions raised by the public and ensuring them that they are being heard.
Mr. Hubbard, a Republican who had formerly served as a Riverhead Town Councilman, had repeatedly floated a moratorium on industrial development in Calverton over the course of the past year amidst a groundswell of public support, but it was blocked by other members of the all-Republican board. With Mr. Hubbard and his running mates, new board members Joann Waski and Denise Merrifield, now in office, along with the vote of Councilman Ken Rothwell, the moratorium was passed with a supermajority of support on the board, overriding the Suffolk County Planning Commission.
Mr. Rothwell said he agreed to support the moratorium because he believes the comprehensive plan recommendations are “very close to the finish line…. The work is truly being done on it, and the moratorium doesn’t scare me much. We’re going to help out the agricultural community with the TDRs (transfer of development rights.”
The moratorium doesn’t include on highly controversial warehouse project — HK Ventures’ 412,659-square-foot project proposed on Route 25 near Tractor Supply Company, which is already too far along in the planning process to be included.
Councilman Bob Kern cast the sole ‘no’ vote.
Many community members were satisfied that the vote had happened, but resident John McAuliff said he’s heard “concern about the horse having gotten out of the barn before the gate was closed.”
“It’s striking in the resolution that the citation of major projects does not include the HK Ventures project,” he said. “It’s also striking that the language of the resolution appears to allow the HK Ventures project to go ahead.”
The town’s Planning Board had stipulated that HK Ventures’ building permit for the project not be granted until the New York State Department of Transportation reconfigures the intersection of Route 25 and Edwards Avenue. HK Ventures sued the town over that requirement in 2023, but that lawsuit was recently dismissed by the court.
“This moratorium was a long time coming,” said Greater Calverton Civic Association President Toqui Terchun. “Yes, we would have liked to have had it earlier. It would have prevented a lot of applications now in the pipeline, and it would have prevented a traffic nightmare. Thank you for extending it to six months.”
Airport Prohibition Enacted
The zoning changes to the Planned Development district prohibit uses including commercial passenger airports, cargo and freight airports, flight instruction and training and aeronautical services “except for fueling, hangaring, tie-down, parking and maintenance ancillary to a permitted principal use.”
All the board members except Ms. Merrifield voted for the resolution, and Ms. Merrifield said her ‘no’ vote was because she did not support the exceptions listed above.
“My feeling is that this exception will expressly allow planes to fly in and out of EPCAL,” she said, adding that opposition to an airport at EPCAL was a key feature of her campaign for office. “Let me make clear: I absolutely want no airport, any flights, out of there.”
“It doesn’t really change what has been going on up there since 1998,” said Mr. Hubbard. “Executives can fly in and fly out. It’s been happening for decades. This isn’t gonna change that.”
“Ms. Merrifield is right. There will never be a cargo, freight or commercial airport there,” he added.
John McAuliff applauded Ms. Merrifield’s position.
“There needs to be a serious discussion about whether any plane use of those runways is an asset or a liability,” he said.
“Tim, I commend you on your stated goals of civility and transparency,” said Baiting Hollow resident Claudette Bianco, adding that, of late, “members of the public have been treated with nothing but disdain and disrespect.”
“The direction Riverhead has taken of late has been misguided and wrought with failure,” she added. “Decisions were made in a vacuum, and hidden agendas and wanton manipulative actions have made us all very weary. Trust is earned, and you have a steep hill to climb. I look forward to the new climate.”
“I firmly believe popcorn sales are going to go down in Riverhead,” said Mr. Hubbard. “These are going to be the most boring meetings to watch, because we’re not going to give the fanfare and circus atmosphere there’s been in the past.”