The 12-acre site on Route 58 recently cleared for a new retail center. Photo: Denise Civiletti

I know that many Riverhead residents are upset about the recent clearing of additional acres of wooded land on Route 58. I believe that we all agree that we need and want to preserve our natural landscapes as much as we can. No one wants Riverhead to lose its rural character or to become another crowded Long Island suburb.

It is disheartening to see more woodland eliminated in order to make way for another shopping center, but property owners cannot be prohibited from building on their own land.

That said, every Riverhead resident should have a voice in shaping the face and scope of development as we begin to craft the update Riverhead’s master plan.

I believe this is a pivotal time in our community. Riverhead long ago outgrew its master plan, and the critically important update has been a priority of my administration since I took office. Now, through increasing efficiency and careful financial planning within our government, we have the money in our budget to fund this important project.

Within the framework of the master plan, we need to rethink what we want to see happen with vacant spaces as big box stores close down. We need to implement more stringent requirements for future retail developments. We need clear and concise ideas to incentivize the redevelopment of existing structures before building new.

We can all have a say in how we want Riverhead to grow and to look in the next five, 10 and 20 years. We can lay the groundwork for more thoughtful planning that will afford mutual consideration to our residents and land, as well as the property owners.

Progress can sometimes be a bitter pill if not metered with a larger vision. With the help of our community, our new master plan will balance progress with preservation and a strong respect for our quality of life.

Laura Jens-Smith is Riverhead Town Supervisor. She lives in Laurel.

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