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

A public hearing on Riverhead Town’s $100 million preliminary operating budget for 2020 will be held by the town board on Nov. 6 at 2:10 p.m. at Riverhead Town Hall.

The town board has not made any changes to the tentative budget filed Sept. 30 by Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith. By state law the tentative budget becomes the town board’s preliminary budget with or without a vote of the town board.

The budget calls for a 2.76% spending increase over the 2019 adopted budget of $97,690,700 and a 2.58% increase in the town-wide tax rate.

The town has now posted online a “supplemental budget report” showing actual numbers for the prior year (2018) and first-half year to date numbers for 2019, alongside the proposed 2020 numbers, Jens-Smith announced at last week’s town board meeting.

She said the supplemental information was posted following complaints that the budget document format lacked that information.

Landmarks Preservation Commission’s role debated

Proposed changes to the town code affecting the role of the Landmarks Preservation Commission have the commission’s chairperson “mystified.”

“Why fix what’s not broken?” LPC chairperson Richard Wines asked the board during a public hearing Wednesday night on the proposed code revisions.

Current code gives the commission, whose members are appointed by the town board, regulatory authority over applications to alter, demolish or build new construction that affects landmarks or historic districts. If an applicant is unhappy with the LPC’s decision, it can appeal it to the town board.

The proposed changes would change the commission’s role to an advisory one. The town board would have 15 days from receipt of the LPC’s recommendation to approve, modify or reject in whole or in part, the commission’s recommendation.

The prosed code says if the town board fails to act within that 15-day period, “the Building Department may accept the recommendation of the Landmarks Preservation Committee and approve, deny or approve with modifications, as the case may be.”

Since the language proposed says the “Building Department may accept” (emphasis added) the LPC’s recommendation, what happens if the building department decides not to — as the proposed language gives the building department discretion, Wines asks.

Wines said in an interview the commission has asked three times to meet with the full town board at a work session to discuss the proposal.

He brought that up during the public hearing Wednesday.

“Richard, this is the public hearing on this, so now is the time to comment,” Jens-Smith responded.

Wines provided the town board with a draft of revisions the LPC would like to see made to the code.

“Ultimately any test has to be whether changes enhance the protection of historic resources,” Wines told the board.

“The present arrangement has worked well for the past 20 years,” Wines said. “It’s in full compliance with state municipal law and follows the state’s model landmarks code. As far as I know there haven’t been any problems with it. I’m not sure why we’re changing it,” he said.

He said in 20 years there have only been two LPC decisions that were appealed to the town board. Both involved projects by Joseph Petrocelli — the Preston House and the Howell House — “and we think both worked out pretty well for the town. The developer wanted to demolish the Howell House, he pointed out. Instead it has been renovated and refurbished.

“We agree that the town board should be the ultimate decision-making power,” Wines said. “But the current proposed text doesn’t do that,” instead providing for “hardship appeals” to the Riverhead Zoning Board of Appeals.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said, “the town board and the ZBA don’t have the expertise of the members of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. It should be left in the hands of the LPC,” she said.

Giglio cited the town board’s approval of the use of “stucco” on a building on Main Street. The material does not fit in with the downtown historic district, she said.

Giglio also noted that the code revision would “require staff to take minutes,” in order for the town board to have a record to review and act on.

“Leaving it in the hands of the town board, where politics can play a role, concerns me,” Giglio said. “The LPC is an independent board. They don’t care about politics. They care about preservation. I think we should meet with you at work session to discuss it,” she said.

“This is not about politics and let’s not make it that way,” Councilwoman Catherine Kent replied. “We all agree the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Architectural Review Board do great work. And we’re very respectful of your opinions and we listen to you,” Kent said.

Jens-Smith said that she and a deputy town attorney met with the Landmarks Preservation Commission to hear its members concerns.

The hearing was closed and the record left open for written comment until Oct. 25.

The town board also held public hearings Wednesday on proposed revisions to the code regulating airport facilities and proposed revisions to its housing and property maintenance code.

It also held its annual hearing on the distribution of Community Development Block Grant funds. Various nonprofit community groups came forward to ask for grants from the program to assist them in their missions.

In other action Oct. 16, the town board:

Scheduled a Nov. 6 public hearing on the special permit application of 1535 Old Country Road LLC to build a 3,809 square foot automate car wash on the southeast corner of Route 58 and Pulaski Street Extension. The hearing is scheduled for 2:05 p.m.

Accepted the resignation of Alex Galasso from the Conservation Advisory Council and appointed Michael Diem to a two-year term.

Voted to increase membership of the town’s Wildlife Management Advisory Committee to six people “in the interest of committee deployment regarding increased surveillance of hunting activities” and appointed David Cote to a two-year term on the committee.

Approved a special event permit application of the Wading River Chamber of Commerce for its second annual Wading River Fall Festival to be held on Nov. 2.

The supervisor announced that the town will hold a community meeting with the downtown pattern book consultants on Nov. 14 at 6:30 p.m. at Riverhead Town Hall.

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Denise Civiletti
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.