Poorly written and outdated zoning use categories and town code are often interpreted in ways that put a developer’s or business’s profit motive above the community’s long-term interests. At other times, ordinances fail to even attempt to preserve the community’s land use interests as defined in the Riverhead Comprehensive Plan. For these and other reasons, the RNPC will continue to suggest zoning and code revisions.
Note: Before taking on any position or initiative, the RNPC researches it to determine whether or not it is aligned with our mission and overarching principles. In most all instances, the RNPC works in close conjunction with one or more of our civic and environmental partners.
Improved Appointment Process for Key Boards. We have asked the Town Board to adopt minimal qualifications for their appointments to the Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board. After all, these board members make critical land use decisions. We have also suggested that the Town adopts and codifies a more open appointment process by making résumés public and holding interviews at open meetings. As of November 2012, the Town Board expressed interest in developing modest qualifications and possibly making résumés publicly available. The Town Attorney's office was tasked with drafting the code. Read October 9, 2012 letter. Read Civics Seek Adoption of Minimum Qualifications and Public Process in Board Appointments.
Online Resolutions. After about a year of urging by the RNPC for better compliance with NYS Open Meetings Law, Riverhead's Town, Planning and Zoning (appeals) boards now post their decisions online under Agenda & Minutes on the town website. In addition, the Town Board is now posting its agenda and proposed resolutions well in advance of Town Board meetings.
Open ZBA Work Sessions. The RNPC and our partners reminded the Town Board and Zoning Board of Appeals in an April 2012 letter that the ZBA’s work sessions violated New York State Open Meetings Law. After several weeks of resistance (and some assistance) by Town officials, the ZBA complied. The ZBA now holds a brief work session prior to their public hearings in the main auditorium at Town Hall. Read Is Good Government Worth Fighting For?
Public Hearings for Site Plans. Until recently, Riverhead did not hold public hearings on most site plans, including key commercial projects. In early December of 2011, after extended pressure from the RNPC and our partners, the Town Board passed a resolution requiring the Planning Board to hold public hearings for all new site plans (like other towns). During this same period, the Planning Board also agreed to incorporate a public comment portion into their meetings. Residents and business owners regularly utilize both. Read Debating the Public's Role: Second Hearing on Site Plan Hearing Proposal.
Land use is complicated and entrenched, moneyed interests have often succeeded in getting projects and uses that appear to violate town zoning and code. Because there are times when zoning and code may lack clarity and is prone to multiple interpretations, and because municipalities regularly appear to succumb to development pressures, the RNPC regularly attempts to stop or significantly alter land uses that could negatively impact our community. Learn about RNPC positions on key projects in your town in the box below.
Fix weak 'breezeway' definition and close loophole. The Town Board admitted it’s illogical to claim a 100-foot-long path connecting two buildings makes them become one building (see article), while acknowledging that the breezeway definition can be interpreted exactly that way. Still, the Board refused to alter the definition because a single business was attempting to use it as a loophole to expand in a way otherwise prohibited. The Town Board indicated it might address the problem, later. That was November 2011. The Jedediah Hawkin’s expansion into the barn was approved as a direct result of this inaction in July 2012. The Town Code Revision committee has been discussing revisions for numerous months. (1/14)
Fix new Retirement Community Zoning before rezoning
anything. The need for assisted living units was defined in the Comprehensive Plan and that's what the RC zone is supposed to address. But the RNPC, the Planning Board and several Town Board members DO NOT believe the code, as written, will actually result in the type of development the community needs. Currently, the code only requires a project to contain 40% assisted living and affordability requirements are likely to put units out of reach for many Riverhead locals. In addition, restrictions as to the size of the property and proximity to public sewers may unnecessarily bar development on the most suitable and industrial properties.
Property restrictions revealed during site plan process. For well over 20 years, the Riverhead Planning has not required applicants to submit information on restrictions, such as covenants that limit uses and right-of-way easements, as part of the site plan process. Without acknowledgement of these restrictions, site plans that violated them can be, and have been, approved. Finally, after nearly two years of asking by the RNPC, the Town Board passed Resolution 185 to require all property restrictions to be fully disclosed by the applicant during the site plan process. Although the Town Board was in unanimous agreement, no meaningful action had been taken until a public hearing on the code change was scheduled for January 15, 2013. (1/13)
Enhanced buffering for MRP zone. As part of the Wading River 25A Corridor Study process, we suggested that the MRP zoning use category require substantial natural screening to block year-round views from any new multi-family dwellings on 25A. (Read letter from RNPC land use consultant on buffering issue.) Although the Town Board adopted the corridor study without making these changes, they later revised the code by adopting Resolution 427 in May 2013. (6/13)
We attempt to increase government transparency and public participation by improving things such as public access to timely information, the openness of meetings doing public business, and municipal procedures. Check out the progress of our Good Government initiatives for yourself in the box below.
JAMESPORT – Jamesport Manor
There has been a long history of litigation since the Town allowed the current Manor owners to restart a use prohibited by zoning that had lapsed for well over a year (a fact that, by law, should have precluded the Town from allowing an 80-seat restaurant on land zoned for agricultural protection). In January 2014, the owners asked the Town Board for another special permit to allow them to add a 4,200 sf, 150-seat catering hall and a 1,200 sf tent. This would amount to an unprecedented 184% expansion of an already non-conforming use and would end all pending litigation on the matter. Read more.
RIVERHEAD – GenRac’s Concordia Senior Communities
No activity. Project MAY be dead in this location. Click here to read more.
CALVERTON - Calverton Manor per Settlement Proposal
Instead of settling the lawsuit by allowing development prohibited by zoning, Riverhead Town fought the suit in court and prevailed in a July 15, 2014, judgement that declared "the comprehensive plan... is a legal, constitutional and valid exercise of the police and zoning powers of the respondent Town Board... Accordingly, the petition is denied." Read more.
WADING RIVER - Knightland Village Mall
A land clearing permit has been approved and the project appears to be moving forward. Click here to read more.
WADING RIVER - Save Wading River Campaign
For additional information on the history of proposed development in Wading River, Click here to read more.
Photo courtesy of Design Plus