In a very unusual if not unprecedented move, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio participated in Riverhead Planning Board discussions with planning staff and applicants Thursday afternoon, even taking a seat at the table — until Planning Board Chairman Stan Carey asked her to return to the audience.
It started with the board’s discussion of Gendot Associates’ site plan application to build a 15-unit retirement community on Middle Road. Giglio, who had been seated in the front row with Councilman John Dunleavy, rose to express her concerns about issues raised during the applicant’s special permit hearing before the town board.
“With all due respect to the planning board, these are things that were discussed at the public hearing before the town board and I’m here today to make sure that my comments that were said during the town board meeting are implemented by the planning board,” Giglio said.
Comments from the town board hearing were incorporated into planner Karen Gluth’s staff report, Carey said after the meeting. Both Gluth and Gendot representative Howard Young, who drafted the site plan, tried to point that out during the meeting but Giglio was annoyed that the planning board didn’t have the minutes of the town board hearing before them.
But as the board took up the next agenda item, Giglio took a seat at the table alongside planning board members.
“I don’t want to interrupt, so I’ll just sit here as liaison to the planning board and express to you what’s discussed at the planning board work sessions that I attend every Tuesday morning and what’s been discussed at the public hearings of the town board, seeing as you don’t have the minutes from those meetings, or the meetings of ARB or the meetings from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, so I’ll sit here and express that to you,” Giglio said.
That’s when Carey called a recess and left the room to confer with planning board attorney Richard Ehlers.
“I felt she crossed a line when she took a seat behind us,” Carey said in an interview the next day.
When he reconvened the meeting Thursday, he took his seat and asked Giglio to return to the audience.
“Councilwoman Giglio, your comments as liaison to the planning board are important to us and we will hear them,” Carey said, “but at this time I would ask you to please take a seat in the audience and let us conduct our business on this side of the table, OK?”
Giglio resisted. “So even though I’m the liaison to the planning board and I sit with the planning department every Tuesday morning from 9:30 to 12 o’clock and I sit with the ARB [architectural review board] and the landmarks preservation commission and seeing as you don’t have any information from those meetings, you would like me to sit in the audience,” she said.
“Let me just say this again,” Carey replied. “Your comments are important to us as liaison. The reports from staff give us as many comments as they possibly could. Again, I’m going to ask you to sit in the audience and if you have a question or comment, we’ll listen,” he said.
“I ask that you have all the information from all the boards,” Giglio said.
“We normally have that information, yes,” the chairman said.
On Friday, Carey said the planning board “of course” considers information and comments provided to it from other boards and committees.
“We base our decisions on information provided to us from them which are summarized to us by staff in their reports,” he said.
“She wasn’t even allowing them to get to their reports,” he said.
As requested, Giglio returned to a seat in the audience but almost immediately was on her feet in front of the board, interjecting comments in its discussion of other agenda items on matters ranging from cross-easements to buffer areas and lot coverage issues.
“It became disruptive,” Carey said Friday.
Giglio said Friday she felt “very frustrated” and called Town Supervisor Sean Walter after the meeting to complain.
“I spend time in these planning department meetings on Tuesday mornings and I don’t feel what I’m discussing there is getting across to the planning board,” Giglio said in an interview. “I don’t know if the planning board watches the town board meetings. I tell planning department staff what happens and what we hear at town board meetings.”
Planning department head Jeff Murphree usually attends all town board meetings and work sessions.
Giglio said Councilman John Dunleavy, who also attended the first part of Thursday’s planning board meeting, feels “very strongly” about the communication issue.
Dunleavy said he was at the meeting to listen to the discussion of the Gendot site plan because the developer assured him a buffer of 10-foot-tall evergreens would be planted to screen the parking lot from residences in the Stoneleigh Woods condo complex to the north.
“When the planning board was talking, he did not volunteer that information,” Dunleavy said, “and I told him I was very disappointed.”
However, the veteran councilman went on to say he would not “try to convince the planning board to do anything they don’t want to do” because “they are independent. They are not ruled by the town board.”
Dunleavy said he would share his opinion with planning board members, or speak at a planning board hearing — which he’s done in the past.
“As liaison to a board or committee, our role is that we’re supposed to report back to the town board and to answer questions the members of the committee might have for the town board,” Dunleavy said. “It’s not to participate as a member of the board we’re liaison to,” he said.
Walter declined comment on what happened at Thursday’s meeting. “I wasn’t there,” he explained.
But the supervisor said he agreed with Dunleavy about the liaison’s role. “John is 100-percent right. It’s not the function of a town board member to participate, but to provide a conduit for information back to the town board,” Walter said. “That’s why at the start of every town board meeting, I ask the board members if there are any reports.”
“This is true especially of the zoning board and planning board. They are independent boards. They are set up that way under state law.”