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Democrats Hold No More Excuses Tour Of Downtown

Tim Gannon
Riverhead News Review

Three Riverhead Democrats running for Town Board held a “No More Excuses” tour on Monday to highlight the various quality of life issues and code violations that they claim have grown under the current Republican administration.

Supervisor candidate Anthony Coates, council candidates Neil Krupnick and Laura Jens-Smith, and members of the press visited blighted and vacant properties around town, including the Court House restaurant.

On Thursday, Riverhead Town fire marshals, acting on a court-ordered search warrant, inspected the interior of the dilapidated Court House restaurant on Griffing Avenue that’s been vacant and crumbling for more than 15 years.

During their tour on Monday, the candidates described the town’s recent inspection as a “photo opportunity staged by Town Hall to offer the illusion of progress on key issues downtown.”

“The Court House restaurant has stood here decaying for all of the almost six years of this administration,” Mr. Coates said.

“What took them so long?” Mr. Kupnick added.

When asked for comment, Republican Supervisor Sean Walter said: “The only one politicizing the Court House restaurant is Mr. Coates.”

Mr. Walter also said he never issues press releases when the town takes action against violators.

“That’s the way I operate,” Mr. Walter said. “We will go after them, gather the information and build a case against them.”

Mr. Walter said that under his predecessor, Democrat Phil Cardinale, the town took an aggressive approach toward code enforcement and issued many violations.

“They went after homeowners and businessmen and they went after them with a vengeance,” Mr. Walter said. “That didn’t get the town anywhere in terms of revitalization of the Court House restaurant or downtown Riverhead. Just as you can’t tax your way to prosperity, you can’t litigate — through code enforcement tickets — to revitalization.”

Mr. Walter used the Suffolk Theater as an example and said litigation under the Cardinale administration merely stalled the progress of the building’s restoration.

The supervisor said his administration decided to drop the litigation and allowed the theater to open.

In a case like the Court House restaurant, Mr. Walter said, the town couldn’t do the inspection until it got a search warrant from state supreme court.

“This isn’t Nazi Germany,” Mr. Walter said. “We can’t just barge our way into these places. People have property rights and we had to build a case against them.”

Mr. Coates said the supervisor often blames things on the previous administration. Now that the current board has been in office for five years, Mr. Coates described Mr. Walter’s administration as “the previous administration.”

Mr. Walter and Councilman Jim Wooten were not nominated for re-election by the Riverhead Town Republican Committee two weeks ago. Both incumbents are planning to run primaries.

The GOP committee nominated Councilwoman Jogi Giglio for supervisor and recently retired town police officers Bob Peeker and Tim Hubbard for council.

“I suspect that Tony Coates and I agree on one thing — Sean Walter has not done the job he was elected to do,” Ms. Giglio said in an interview Monday. “I think the town needs leadership and a supervisor that has public and private sector experience. As a business leader, I’ve set goals, met deadlines and made payroll. It’s that acumen
that our taxpayers and downtown business owners deserve.”

The other Republican incumbent councilman, George Gabrielsen, is not seeking re-election.

During their tour on Monday, the Democratic candidates also visited the vacant Swezey’s and West Marine buildings, the comfort station on West Main Street, which they claim isn’t open to the public, and Grangebel Park, an area they described as underutilized.

PeraBell restaurant, which renovated the former Cody’s BBQ site, is an example of what downtown Riverhead could be, the candidates said.

They also said they believe the town should be seeking grants to help renovate other downtown building facades.

As for the vacant Swezey’s property, Ms. Jens-Smith said: “This building has been decaying for all of the past six years and beyond. There are numerous code violations here. This building is not in a rentable condition. Why isn’t Town Hall pushing the landlord to get this building into a rentable condition? Right across the street is the Suffolk Theater. If the theater is to thrive, we need to retake the areas around it.”

Other sites with code violations that the Democrats pointed out include: overcrowded housing around town, illegal signs near Edwards Avenue and Route 25, and the operation of the Glass Greenhouse in Jamesport.

“Cleaning up Riverhead is a constant struggle and we don’t believe Town Hall has made the effort to stay ahead of problems,” Mr. Coates said. “There has been much talk but little action.”