Pictured Above: The soundfront property listed as the North Fork Resort on Alfred Weismann Real Estate LLC’s website.

Update: Feb. 18, 2024

The Riverhead Town Board has cancelled the public hearing on the proposed zoning change originally scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 21, citing feedback from the farming community. The board intends to discuss and perhaps amend the code at an upcoming work session and hold a new public hearing at a date in the future. We will update this post with further information as it becomes available.

Original Story Follows:

A proposed zoning change to allow “agritourism and resort” development north of Sound Avenue in Riverhead up for public hearing before the Riverhead Town Board next Wednesday, Feb. 21 is gathering regional attention this week, after months of concerns raised by neighbors of a proposed luxury resort and spa on a portion of 105 acres of property overlooking the Long Island Sound.

“We’re on a peninsula that juts out between two national estuaries, and regional planning matters,” Southold Town Principal Planner Mark Terry told the Southold Town Board at its Feb. 13 work session, adding that harvest season traffic along the historic corridor of Sound Avenue is already a major problem.

“Farmers out here have been frustrated, because by the time people turn from Edwards onto Sound Avenue (in Calverton), people had already been in traffic so long they were exhausted,” he added. “It’s an economic issue, a traffic issue, a safety issue and an environmental issue. The woodlands along the Sound are preserved because the farmers preserved them by not farming them.”

“This impacts not only residents, but people who visit,” added Southold Councilwoman Jill Doherty. “People are not going to go any further. That’s the complaint of several (Southold) businesses.”

“This is an absolute nightmare,” agreed Southold Councilman Greg Doroski. “The code preserves the historic corridor… I think there’s nothing they could do that would disturb that historic corridor more than this.”

Southold representatives’ comments were contrast to Riverhead officials’ commentary on the proposed legislation, which they say they see as an effort to preserve farmland.

“The intent of this is to preserve our agricultural heritage,” Riverhead Councilman Ken Rothwell told a crowd of concerned neighbors of the proposed development at the Riverhead Town Board’s Dec. 19 meeting. “If the concern is you’re going to see a Mariott Marquis five story building there, you’re not. It would have to be designed to be low environmental impact, with nothing seen from Sound Avenue.”

“It gives farmers the opportunity to team up with colleges — people could stay for a week, and you’d have crops being grown and it becomes like a learning culture similar to Cornell Cooperative Extension,” he added. “They can immerse themselves on the property and stay there.”

The proposed code would allow development of “agri-tourism inns and resorts” in Riverhead’s RA-80 zoning district by special permit from the town board on properties greater than 100 acres, as long as the inn and resort use did not comprise more than 30 percent of the site, although agri-tourism uses like crop mazes, apple picking and agricultural educational programs would be allowed on the rest of the property.

Staff at the news website RiverheadLocal.com have doggedly pursued the development of the code change for months, unveiling correspondence between representatives of the Westchester firm Alfred Weissman Real Estate, which made a $1,000 contribution last year to new Town Supervisor Tim Hubbard’s campaign and is planning a five star resort on a 105 acre soundfront property, and town officials in which the developers offered to help write this code, which would enable their project.

According to the developers’ website, the property contains more than 600 linear feet of soundfront coastline and a 70-acre organic farm, which “will allow for the offering of an organic farm to table experience” at the five-star resort they’ve proposed for the site, which is north of Sound Avenue adjacent to the Willow Ponds Sound Condominiums.

Southold Town Supervisor Al Krupski, a farmer, expressed skepticism about the proposed code at the Southold work session.

“Do you have to weed corn to stay there? Do you have to pick beans?” he asked. “How is this agritourism? They can’t even promise it stays in ag production.”

Many Willow Ponds residents showed up for the Riverhead Town Board’s Dec. 19, 2023 meeting to express their concerns about the process.

“We think this is a terrible idea,” said Bill Wandling, the president of the Willow Ponds on the Sound Property Owners Association at the Riverhead Town Board’s Dec. 19 meeting. “Changing the zoning for all the land north of Sound Avenue just so some developer from out-of-town ban build a hotel is really not acceptable. A lot of people here are all pretty anxious.”

Willow Ponds resident John Yovino said everyone in his community is concerned about the impact a resort development would have on traffic on Sound Avenue.

“There are two lanes on Sound Avenue. Can you imagine what it’s going to be if you approve this?” he asked.

Willow Ponds resident Phyllis Gambrill wanted to know if people who visit the resort would use the beach on the Sound.

“The beach is almost non-existent,” she said. “The sand is going away. What is the situation of their use of the Sound as part of the draw to get people to come there?”

Mr. Rothwell said he believed the developers were planning the project to be more focused on farm-to-table food than beaches.

“It’s not a beach resort,” he said. “I don’t foresee cabanas and things down by the shore. As to the traffic impacts, if you have 100 rooms and people stay at a spa for a week, people will go and park and stay. The secondary uses we typically see, the bouncy bouncies, breweries and festivals, bring a significant amount of traffic. They have a right to develop the property into housing or condominiums. This is better than a hell of a lot of development of homes.”

Mr. Rothwell then pointed out that the developers have not yet formally presented an application for their project to the town.

Southold Town Board members said they plan to make their concerns known at the Riverhead hearing.

“It’s very important that we speak as a unified town board,” said Southold Councilman Greg Doroski at the Feb. 13 Southold work session. “We recognize the regional impacts of this and would like them to consider their neighbors.”

“As we plan ourselves into popularity…. we already have… we are going to be challenged by things like this,” said Mr. Terry, the town planner. “This is an agritourism resort in the wrong place.”

“Look at the rest of Long Island. Look how they’re clearing the Pine Barrens,” said Mr. Krupski, pointing out the vast swaths of woods that are being cleared by developers just west of the East End. “Really, the business we’re in here is looking out for the residents.”

The hearing will be held in Riverhead Town’s new Town Hall at 4 West Second Street on Wednesday, Feb. 21 at 6 p.m. Information about attending via Zoom will be posted on the homepage Riverhead Town’s website prior to the meeting.

Editor’s Note 2/18/24: The text of the proposed code change has been removed from the public hearing notice section of the Riverhead Town website, but it can still be viewed beginning on page 285 of the agenda for the board’s Jan. 17 meeting.

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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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