The six civic associations active in the town of Riverhead are calling on the city council to issue a moratorium pending the completion of the long-delayed full plan update, citing the number and scope of new development applications filed while planning continues.
The presidents of the six civic groups signed a letter delivered to City Council and filed with the City Clerk on March 7, requesting action “temporarily halting all retail, industrial, commercial and multi-residential housing throughout the Riverhead footprint until the overall plan is complete.
The impacts of all proposed new developments in the city must be assessed as a whole, “on a cumulative basis” and “not piecemeal”, the letter says, specifically citing “several industrial projects in the application phase”. The letter also cites the various multi-family housing developments currently underway – at the application stage, under review and under construction.
Since City Council voted in late 2019 to hire AKRF to complete a comprehensive plan update, Council has approved two multi-story, multi-family housing developments downtown, providing a total of 73 new rental apartments. New applications have been filed or finalized for 202 rental apartments in three other mixed-use multi-storey buildings. Other pending applications in the pipeline that precede AKRF’s hiring would provide a total of 198 additional new rental units.
In addition, the city council moved forward with the acquisition of three buildings on East Main Street and the demolition of two of them for the development of a public square, which could include a future commercial component. and residential.
The city council also created an overlay ward in the Railroad Avenue area to allow for more uses and denser development as incentives for the revitalization of the long devastated area. A lead developer for a transit-oriented development could build up to 200 new rental apartments near the train station.
There are several large industrial projects also in various stages of application and review, including a 138-acre industrial subdivision next to Splish Splash, a 412,000 square foot warehouse and a manufacturing proposal on Route 25 in Calverton , and logistics of 600,000 square feet. planned center for a site on Middle Road near Manor Road in Calverton.
Civic groups also argue that whatever is going to be done at EPCAL, which still remains unknown, should be part of the overall plan and not treated as an individual project.
Work on the city’s development rights transfer program, which has languished due to a lack of reception areas and a lack of incentive to use the program, is expected to be completed in conjunction with the overall plan. , city leaders said.
The city passed a moratorium while the 2003 Master Plan was being drafted. It also passed a moratorium on new commercial solar installations in October 2021. The letter from city leaders cites language from the solar moratorium, which states that a moratorium “would give the Town of Riverhead time to consider enacting the necessary zoning and planning changes to protect public health, safety and welfare, as well as the Town of Riverhead’s landscape and agricultural heritage. Riverhead.
Some of the signatories to the letter attended the special March 24 city council meeting to ask council members for a response to their March 7 letter.
They found no takers among the members of the board of directors for their request for a moratorium.
“It’s no use right now,” Councilman Tim Hubbard said. “We are in the middle of a global plan. And the things that are deemed, as they are now, such as industry A and industry C, if they need to be changed, they will be done as part of the overall plan,” he said. . “I would love if you have specifics you want to talk about, like solar – we put a moratorium on solar, but putting a general moratorium, I don’t think is a wise move,” Hubbard said.
“If someone who bought land or has permits and you want a moratorium, the number of lawsuits that would generate for taxpayers – and how long that would last, you know, people have land rights, like you do,” Councilman Bob Kern said. “I don’t know how many permits are in circulation. And we’re just going to stop this process? From a legal standpoint, I think that leaves the city open to insurmountable amounts of lawsuits,” Kern said.
“I believe that, you know, commercial landowners are taxpayers too,” Councilman Ken Rothwell said. “And they have the right to develop their land. And it is not up to us to prevent them from developing the territory. This is to ensure that things are done accordingly. And that’s what the overall plan does, it guides us into the future,” Rothwell said. He said “it is inappropriate” for the city to stop projects that are permitted “under current city rules and regulations and zoning laws,” he said.
“We can’t just randomly stop progress at Riverhead, stop everything immediately,” supervisor Yvette Aguiar said. “There is a process. It is a complete process. We are doing it,” Aguiar said.
“Right now, what matters is the old global plan. And as long as any development adheres to these guidelines, we have a fiduciary responsibility to avoid – to ensure that we don’t stray from our liability solely for development purposes,” she said.
“People buy land, they have a right. When they bought it, they searched for it. They knew what it was for. They knew what they had, whether it was residential, commercial, they knew they had a vision for it. And we can’t randomly say, “Oh, we’re starting a plan that could take a year.” And you can’t do anything with it,” she said.
Wading River Civic Association President Sid Bail reminded council that the city had imposed temporary moratoriums on the 2003 Comprehensive Plan and the 1987 Wading River Corridor Study before that. Both succeeded, he said.
Barbara Blass of Jamesport, who was a member of city council when the comprehensive plan was completed and adopted in 2003 and before that was chair of the planning board, which led the preparation of the 2003 plan, supported what Bail said. In fact, Blass said, the moratorium adopted at the time was extended to allow the plan to be completed.
Blass told council that filing an application does not make a property owner’s rights “vested” under existing zoning. “If you’re not currently invested in the area you’re in, the law says that zoning can be changed,” Blass said. She noted that the zoning adopted by the city in accordance with the 2003 Master Plan was actually challenged by a landowner, but the city prevailed.
When running for supervisor in 2019, Aguiar opposed the overall plan, an initiative of former incumbent Laura Jens-Smith. Aguiar said a comprehensive plan would take too long and cost too much.
In October 2019, the city council awarded a $675,000 contract to planning consultants AKRF. The project schedule provided for completion in 18 months. The deal wasn’t finalized until Jens-Smith left and Aguiar signed the deal in January 2020.
But the whole planning process has been stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Planning consultants held a delayed kick-off meeting with City Council in September 2020.
Public outreach, including online surveys and community meetings, originally scheduled to begin five months after launch, according to the schedule attached to the original contract, did not begin until August 2021, when the city and consultants have launched an interactive website for the global plan. . Community meetings started in September 2021.
The city council, meanwhile, approved an amendment to the contract that added some features, such as the website and a social location map, and removed the preparation of an official map, which was part of the original contract. Consultant fees remained unchanged. The amendment also included a new project completion schedule, which called for the full plan and final generic environmental impact statement to be completed by August 2022.
Last month, the city’s chief planner and planning consultant told city council that the overall plan’s expected completion date was now spring 2023.
Bail said it would be “extremely helpful” if the planning department compiled a list of projects for which applications are currently pending, as he said in 2003.
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