Members of the town board at the Oct. 2, 2019 meeting. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Riverhead will begin the process of updating its comprehensive land use plan.

The town board voted 4-1 yesterday to contract with AKRF Environmental, Planning and Engineering Consultants for the master plan update.

The cost of the planning work is not to exceed $675,000, according to the resolution adopted by the board. AKRF’s proposal was $775,000 initially, but was reduced through negotiations, Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said.

According to the firm’s proposal, the fee includes pubic outreach and surveys, meetings, trends analysis, goal-setting, developing a preferred plan and the generic environmental impact statement required by state law.

AKRF was one of two planning firms to submit proposals in response to a June 4 request for proposals. The other firm was Buckhurst Fish and Jacquemart of Manhattan, which submitted a $463,000 proposal. A review committee consisting of Councilwoman Catherine Kent, Councilman James Wooten, and representatives from the Building and Planning Department, supervisor’s office and town attorney’s office evaluated the two proposals and recommended AKRF.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio cast the lone vote yesterday in opposition to the resolution, objecting to the $675,000 expenditure on top of the cost of a pattern book for downtown.

“The town is broke and we’re still raising taxes,” Giglio said, “and we’re spending nearly $1 million between the pattern book and the master plan.”

The board on Aug. 20 voted 3-2 to contract with Urban Design Associates of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to prepare a pattern book for downtown Riverhead at a cost of $174,530. Giglio voted against that contract also, joined by Councilman Tim Hubbard.

Giglio said yesterday that the town would be wiser to spend money on certain planning tasks and certain areas of town, rather than pursue an overall comprehensive plan update. She said the town should concentrate on zoning for downtown and Route 58 and fixing the transfer of development rights program.

“I think it could be done for a lot less money,” she said.

Taxpayers are already overburdened, Giglio said. They now face the prospect of paying for a $100 million school capital construction project as well, she said.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent said it makes sense to look at the whole town at once because different areas affect each other.

“Yes we are making investments,” Kent said. “We are making investments in the future of our town. We’re not just slapping Band-Aids on things here and there. We’re looking long-term and I think that’s very important for the future of our town.”

Councilman James Wooten said the town’s current master plan is “probably 20 years old.” It was adopted in 2003, he said, but it was discussed for a couple of years before that. He said the town has been doing piecemeal planning for the past 10 years.

“Patchwork is not the way to go,” Wooten said. “You’ve got to look at the town comprehensively, as a whole. Every community has different needs and wants. Each community has to come forward with this collective reasoning to create a final plan for this town,” Wooten said.

“To segment this out I think would be a disservice to the community,” Jens-Smith said before casting her vote. She ticked off a list of things that the update should look at, from zoning on Route 58 in the post-Amazon world and market studies, the TDR program, to climate change and rising sea level.

Jens-Smith noted that prior boards have expressed a desire to do a master plan update but the town lacked the funds to do the job. The community benefit agreement and easement agreement with solar energy company sPower provided the town with the money to undertake the master plan update, she said. The town is drawing $400,000 from sPower’s community benefit funds and $275,000 from the company’s payment for an easement across Edwards Avenue, so that it can tie its solar farm in to an existing substation.

Giglio also objected to authorizing the supervisor to execute a contract with AKRF without the agreement being attached to the resolution.

The agreement is not yet negotiated but the resolution authorizes the supervisor to sign the agreement after it is finalized by the town attorney.

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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.