In a recent opinion piece, Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith advanced the idea for a new master plan to address the recent decline in one sector of retail seen in town and the continued limited economic revitalization seen in recent years across our community.
The piece elaborated that a series of procedures would be necessary toward a full rewrite of the town’s master plan at some unknown cost. It continued by saying that this task could be completed if there was enough support for it by citizens at public meetings.
I question whether all the options available to a town like Riverhead have been completely exhausted to meet the needs of the community to drive economic revitalization before requiring a complete rewrite of the master plan. I position this question in two facets. First, what has been done to meet the needs of the current master plan and second, what data-driven policies have been made that would support economic development? Particularly, what data points have been collected? Therefore, in the pursuit of an economic revitalization that is successful in making our town a destination for a day, a week or a lifetime, there must be a fusion of minds in the community with concrete data.
Jens-Smith commented in the same piece that she would encourage the kind of businesses that will provide sustainable, good jobs for our residents and make a place for projects that truly build our tax base and discourage things that require too much government service to make financial sense.
This statement underlines the need for a top-to-bottom analysis of the physical number of businesses and residential communities in town. Particularly, there is a need to complete or otherwise undertake: a report of the residential market potential; a Riverhead industrial market analysis; Route 58 commercial revitalization action plan and to finish the plans for the annex building, the old armory and any potential changes to town hall and the police station.
Thus, in order for a new master plan rewrite to be sold to other board members and to the public, there are other details that must be worked out prior to such undertaking that might impact funds available for larger capital projects. The current unfinished studies might provide data necessary to better understand the true needs of the community, in terms of current housing demands and the type of diverse businesses that is most desired or supported in our community.
I don’t mean to be dismissive of any and all budget-orientated decisions or proposals, but I think there is a present need to create an ad-hoc committee with appointed community members and governmental liaisons from the planning and community development department to deliver any and all innovative solutions that might streamline the business decision-making structure in Town Hall, that in terms of economic revitalization seem overdue. The collective and innovative partnership of the community would foster public support and subsequently other town board members’ support for any revision to the master plan, if one is necessary, at that point. Moreover, as the supervisor said, “Only with your input will we get a new master plan that protects what makes Riverhead special.”
You never want to get rid of the foundation if it does not show any signs of deficiencies. First, you would need to get a survey done of the special conditions of the foundation. If just a few tweaks, patches and updates are necessary, let us, as residents, first look at those options instead of making the commitment for a new foundation that would cost at least $100,000-plus and impact other budget priorities with no way of paying for it without future bond indebtedness.
In sum, in the pursuit of an effective economic revitalization plan, there must be a fusion of minds in the community in the form of an ad-hoc committee with a sole purpose of connecting the dots in terms of economic conditions data and finding out the actual basis points necessary to understand the root cause to any current limited economic growth.
Bryan Carroll was briefly a member of the supervisor’s staff in 2018, serving as town budget officer. He lives in Riverhead.
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