Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter delivering the State of the Town message March 3, 2016. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Supervisor Sean Walter used his “State of the Town” speech last night to advocate for term limits on the town board and a four-year term of office for the supervisor, the construction of hundreds of additional affordable rental apartments to house the local workforce and a second downtown hotel, as well as undertaking a Route 25 “corridor study” in Aquebogue and Jamesport.

But he also used the annual address to make long overtures about doing “God’s will” in the world by serving others, especially the poor. In the first six minutes of a 39-minute speech, quoting from Scripture and the lyrics of a Christian pop song, he exhorted Riverhead residents to be “the salt and light” of the world.

He highlighted the work of people and organizations in the Riverhead community who are helping others. “This is a selfless town,” he said.

“One of the things that troubles me the most, both personally and as town supervisor is the treatment of the Latino community in both Riverhead and the nation. What is lost in the rhetoric is these people are human beings with feelings and needs, just like all other human beings created by God,” Walter said.

“We can’t stand by and do nothing,” he said.

He praised the the Riverhead school district and its residents for stepping up when asked to take in and aid 200 displaced children. “They stood ready…There were no protests, no wailing and gnashing of teeth. They did what needed to be done, educating them with the respect and dignity all children deserve.

“As a town and as a people we did not cross the street. We did not look the other way. We comforted them and we served them the way God wanted us to.”

He drew on that theme to urge support for the Family Community Life Center, a proposal to build affordable rental apartments and a community center on 12 acres along Northville Turnpike currently owned by First Baptist Church of Riverhead, which is donating the land. The people of the church, he said, have taken God’s call to heart by providing land for much needed housing and a community center that Walter calls “a YMCA on steroids.”

Suggesting an analogy between the call to change the world and a call to change town hall, Walter urged the adoption of a four-year term for the town supervisor, beginning in 2017, and a 12-year term limit for all five town board seats.

Walter won applause with his declaration that the town is very close to landing a new multi-screen movie theater in the former Wal-Mart shopping center on Route 58.

“This has been a long and arduous process,” Walter said, acknowledging the efforts of Councilwoman Jodi Giglio. “I think we are about a year away from ground-breaking on the first movie theater in a long, long time. I can’t wait to see a movie marquee lit up in Riverhead again.”

The supervisor also drew applause with the pronouncement that Riverhead Town in 2016 has a balanced general fund budget.

“For the first time in an awful long time, the revenues coming in equal the expenditures going out,” Walter said.

He said cuts to expenses, tax base growth and use of general fund reserves allowed the town to limit tax increases as it paid down its landfill closure debt. Because the town has not incurred any new debt over the past six years, in 2017 about $500,000 in debt service will come off the backs of the Riverhead taxpayers, Walter said. That will allow the town to meet the tax levy limitation next year.

He called on state lawmakers to pass legislation to allow towns to refinance their community preservation fund debt, which would bring reduce Riverhead’s annual CPF debt service from $5.7 million to $2.5 million, which can be carried by the town’s annual CPF revenues.

Walter struck familiar themes in the annual speech, talking about downtown revitalization and the redevelopment of EPCAL.

“Downtown is happening,” he declared, pointing to the new businesses taking root along East Main Street and the planned 48-unit Peconic Crossing apartment building “geared toward Long Island’s artisans” on West Main Street that he said will help the renaissance of the West Main Street area. “West Main Street is truly on the move,” he said.

The long-sought redevelopment of the former Grumman site in Calverton is coming to fruition, Walter said, with the return of the aerospace industry to the Town of Riverhead. He said Luminati Aerospace will be the centerpiece of EPCAL’s redevelopment that will bring good jobs and tax base growth to Riverhead.

The final environmental impact statement for the EPCAL subdivision is completed and will be delivered to town hall in the next few days, Walter said. He will ask the planning board later this month to approve the subdivision map, which has been modified to accommodate Luminati’s needs, he said.

“Today we are in a position to finish the subdivision with an amazing anchor tenant, the kind we have been dreaming about for 20 years. The town’s vision of a high-tech industrial manufacturing park utilizing the runways as they were intended to be used is now a reality,” the supervisor said.

Council members John Dunleavy, James Wooten, Jodi Giglio and Tim Hubbard all attended the dinner.

After Walter’s speech, Dunleavy criticized Walter’s characterization of the Family Community Life Center plan, accusing the supervisor of “lying” about it.

“He left out the part about the apartments being tax-free,” said Dunleavy, who has been outspoken in opposition to the plan. Representatives of Family Community Life Center, which is headed by Shirley Coverdale, have said they would seek real property tax abatements from the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency.

The proposal depends on the approval of a new overlay zoning district, the Community Benefit zone, that would allow increased development density for projects that provide certain types of community benefits. A town board public hearing on the proposed zoning code is scheduled for March 15 at 7:05 p.m.

 

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.