Main Road in Aquebogue, looking west from Edgar Avenue, in August 2018. File photo: Peter Blasl

Once again, Riverhead Town is being threatened with chainsaws and overdevelopment that is absolutely unnecessary, and once again, we residents are left to make our voices and choices heard. Otherwise, we risk morphing into another section of over developed western Long Island.

Our town board is currently considering a request for a special permit for a 10,000 square foot, two-story medical building to be built on Route 25 in Aquebogue. With six separate office suites and 34 exam rooms on an acre together with an acre of paved parking, the approval would set a new precedent. It will forever alter the rural character that our zoning codes are meant to protect from similar sized buildings. It will pave the new way forward. In fact, two similar oversized projects, looking to skirt the zoning, are already in line to request special permits for the same area.

There are numerous details as to why this project doesn’t qualify for a special permit. But to sum up, it goes way beyond the restrictions in size, scope and purpose our zoning code requires. Yet, the request is still on the table and so far, supported by the majority of the town board.

We, the residents, limited the Rural Corridor Zoning Use District zoning to roadside shops and services, farm stands, antique stores, and single- and two-family homes in order to preserve the look and feel of our rural roots. Conditions of a special permit require being within a quarter-mile of a hamlet or village center. Here, the site is down the street from Little Lucharito’s and much smaller office space. Those office spaces are similar in purpose, though vastly different in size and scope to the one proposed. The proximity to the hamlet center hinges on the property “providing for hamlet services.” The point of that limitation is it should provide service to the immediate hamlet area, not the entire North Fork. These buildings are not providing for the hamlet of Aquebogue, but for all of Riverhead and Southold.

It is not my position that a medical office isn’t an appropriate use of this parcel, but certainly not one of this size. No one in favor of the Rural Corridor zoning ever envisioned two-story commercial buildings, including converting an acre from woodlands to paved parking. There are plenty of other more suitable locations in Riverhead Town for a building this size and configuration. Those areas would let the owner’s build without needing special permission from the town.

This is not what the residents want, as many have stated repeatedly throughout the years. It goes against our master plan, limiting development east of Route 105. It will forever alter the rural hamlets. Then what’s stopping multi-story office buildings going up all along the rural corridor? The eventual impact will be the destruction of our tourism industry and rural heritage.

Our town board needs to work on behalf of the residents of Riverhead and apply wisdom to its decisions. Special permits are useful for exceptions that make sense. But they shouldn’t be a way to bypass the will of the people who put in place a tool to best serve the residents, the landscape, and the future of Riverhead’s rural corridor.

Juan Micieli-Martinez is a Democratic candidate for Riverhead councilman. He lives in Riverhead.

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