A community forum convened this morning on the topic of a proposal to site a YMCA in Aquebogue yielded a discussion of the future complexion of Main Road east of Route 105, where a legal separation from the Town of Riverhead may be needed “to protect our community,” according to civic association president Georgette Keller.

A crowd of about 50 people filled the pews of the Jamesport Meeting House this morning, where the YMCA discussion ranged from whether the plan meets zoning code requirements to whether the plan meets the overall mission of a YMCA.

Time and again, residents expressed the belief that the rural character of Riverhead Town’s eastern hamlets was under assault. They cited not only the push for the 40,000-square-foot YMCA facility on Route 25 in Aquebogue, but also the plan of Jul-Bet Enterprises to build a 42,000-square-foot mixed-use commercial development just west of “downtown” Jamesport. The Town Board this week unanimously approved a “findings statement” on the Jul-Bet special permit application, the last step in the environmental review process mandated by state law.

So concerned and frustrated with town government are the residents of Jamesport and Aquebogue, they have lawyers working on forming an incorporated village “to protect our community,” Keller, president of the Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association said in an interview after the meeting. Incorporated villages are not subject to the zoning regulations of the towns in which they are located; they create their own land use plans and zoning rules.

If such a moverment were successful, it would be the first incorporated village within the Town of Riverhead’s boundaries. Riverhead is currently the only town in Suffolk County that has no incorporated village within it.

“We are all that’s left,” Keller said of the East End. “We’re the only place left that provides a rural lifestyle to the entire region,” she said.

“Mr. Walter said just Wednesday night at the ‘State of the Town’ address that he’s not interested in Riverhead being like East Hampton but rather more like towns west,” Keller said, referring to remarks made by the supervisor during the annual speech to Riverhead service clubs.

Walter’s analogy pertained to town finances rather than land use. Speaking of his recent request to the state comptroller for an audit of the town’s financial records, Walter said, “I’m not striving to model this town after East Hampton. We need to model ourselves against towns up west, where the debt burden is almost nonexistent, towns that are stable, towns that don’t have skyrocketing tax burdens, and part of that is making sure that everything we do is correct to the best our ability.”

“Georgette Keller is taking my comments out of context and making an issue out of nothing,” Walter said Saturday afternoon.

He had harsh words for the idea of an incorporated village, too.

“In my opinion that’s the silliest thing I’ve heard,” he said. “In a time when people are trying to scale back government and scale back regulations and trying to combine resources, that would be going absolutely in the opposite direction,” he said.

“I suspect the people of Jamesport and Aquebogue would rise up against it in a huge way,” Walter said. Property taxes “would go through the roof,” he predicted.

“There would be zero tax base in such a village,” he said. “And the proponents of a village don’t want any tax base,” he said.

Residents at the meeting generally expressed support of a YMCA, but expressed opposition to the Main Road location identified by the Peconic YMCA, citing traffic, road hazards, light pollution, accessibility, runoff and drainage issues.

“This is all about ‘not in my backyard,'” the supervisor said.

Walter did not attend the Saturday morning meeting, though council members George Gabrielsen, who lives in Jamesport, and Jodi Giglio were there and participated in the discussion.

Giglio said the community wants the services typically offered by a Y, and if that’s what the community wants, it should be provided by the town. “We shouldn’t depend on private developers to provide these things,” Giglio said.

“They trade on the emotion of a YMCA,” Ethel Sussman of South Jamesport said. “But they are intentionally being very secretive about what they are and are not offering,” she said. Right now, the services that will be offered are simply speculation, she said.

Gabrielsen said the Peconic YMCA rejected publicly owned sites for the facility, such as the Calverton Enterprise Park and Stotzky Park. The councilman said he was disappointed the proposal didn’t include a recreation center, which he said the town needs very much. Its main components are a swimming pool and a preschool, Gabrielsen said.

Civic vice president Angela DeVito suggested residents approach YMCA of Long Island to express their views on what services a YMCA should offer. The community need not be limited to the vision of the Peconic YMCA board, DeVito said.

Keller said the civic association would decide the next steps to take in connection with the YMCA proposal.

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