Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith kicked off a listening tour Monday evening at the Senior Center in Aquebogue.
No issue was off-limits at the informal style meeting where for two hours, the supervisor discussed everything from the future of downtown Riverhead, the $40 million EPCAL sale and traffic woes, to individual neighborhood issues such as infrastructure (lighting, sidewalks, etc) in need of repair.
Two dozen people attended the first of three stops on the listening tour, which the supervisor said are part of her overall goal to increase transparency at town hall and increase face-to-face communication with constituents.
“Not everybody’s comfortable coming to town hall or addressing [the board] at the podium,” during a meeting, Ms. Jens-Smith said.
Concerns over five-story buildings on Main Street — and where everyone will park — topped the list of concerns discussed at the session.
Ms. Jens-Smith said she views those as separate issues, though they influence each other.
The new downtown code amendments will likely dictate that new residential projects must include their own parking, unlike the current code.
She said that, as the town explored more long-term parking solutions, they are considering removing landscaped “islands” in some parking lots to add more spaces. “It’s not the greatest thing to remove islands, but it gives us 67 more spaces,” the Supervisor said, also acknowledging that the current timed parking stalls are “very confusing.”
Despite casting a dissenting vote on the EPCAL sale, the supervisor said she is committed to closing the deal, hopefully in six months. The town must still complete an eight-lot subdivision, plan for the sewer district and get Suffolk County Health Department approval, she said. “Within five years, they’re supposed to build out one million square feet, they’re supposed to bring a lot of economic generation to our area. The quicker we can get that started will be better for all of us,” she said.
One resident wondered what happens if Calverton Aviation & Technology disappears, or backs out of the deal.
The supervisor said the property would default back to the town. “But I can’t imagine they would default without selling. It’s a valuable piece of land,” she said.
The meeting held in Aquebogue naturally drew residents and civic groups from Northville and Jamesport, who are most impacted by issues like seasonal traffic and helicopter noise.
“When it’s pumpkin picking season, you can’t move,” said William Van Helmond, president of the Greater Jamesport Civic Association.
The supervisor reported that the town is working on solutions, including adding more Traffic Control Officers and borrowing methods, such as a temporary third lane, used by the Town of Southampton during the U.S. Open last year.
“Whether that’s going to be feasible or not, I’m not 100 percent sure. We have our highway department looking at that right now,” she said.
Many pointed to Harbes Farm as the impetus for traffic, especially near their Sound Avenue farm.
“They’ve actually been a good neighbor,” Ms. Jens-Smith said, noting that they’ve implemented congestion pricing, which created additional problems with people parking down the road off Pier Avenue. According to the supervisor, they have purchased an additional eight acres that borders Pier Avenue to be used for parking.
Though that resulted in some groans by Northville residents, the supervisor stressed that farms — and successful farms at that — are important to the community. “Our farmers struggle here. It’s expensive, it’s a tough job. The kids don’t always want to come in and farm. How as a community do we digest that and be able to preserve what it is that so many of us love?” she said. “On all the agricultural land, you can put houses.”
Trying to preserve what’s left was one issue everyone in the room agreed on.
By the end, one burning question remained.
When is Riverhead getting that movie theater?
“Rumor of a movie theater coming here was just that,” the supervisor said. “I think we have a very vibrant community here that loves the movies, but it’s just not our time here yet.”
A listening session scheduled for Feb. 12 was canceled due to weather. It has not yet been rescheduled.
Photo caption: Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith kicked dresses the crowd Monday evening at the Senior Center in Aquebogue. (Tara Smith photo)