McDermott Avenue on Feb. 14, 2020, while Riverview Lofts was under construction. blue house across from the apartment building is proposed to be demolished and replaced by a four-story building with two retail stores and nine apartments.
File photo: Denise Civiletti

Here in Riverhead, what we lack in foresight, we make up for in hindsight. This is a problem.

Foresight is looking ahead, preparing wisely, studying the details from every angle to avoid mistakes moving forward. Foresight is what we could have if, instead of fast-tracking the newest high-rise apartment projects, the town board majority would instead choose to question, investigate, and demand every possible detail, before taking one more step forward.

Hindsight is seeing the mistakes too late to undo the damage. Ask Mrs. Doroski or the Methodist Church trustees about structural damage from pile-driving from the new five-story building across the street. Ask anyone unable to find a spot to park because the former town board didn’t think to require adequate parking for tenants and commercial customers in the 100+ apartment complex.

We should learn from hindsight. Yet the town board majority again seems anxious to rubber stamp a high-rise proposal and ignore the parking needs. The nearby municipal lot is earmarked to accommodate ‘spillover,’ yet this Railroad Avenue project will most likely repeat the disaster we’ve seen downtown.

The same town board majority appears ready to fast-track another proposed multi-story building, this one replacing a house built in 1939 that sits on a one-eighth-acre lot on McDermott Avenue in the shadow of the newly built five-story building. The house is one of a row of several older single-family homes on the east side of McDermott Avenue. McDermott is the only two-way street off Main Street that provides access to our beautiful river. The narrow street has no shoulder to accommodate pick-ups, deliveries, taxi service and more for the existing five-story building. The flow of traffic on McDermott would be constantly disturbed during the construction and after completion of another apartment building on the opposite side of the street.

Our community is voicing loud objections and concerns about these two new project proposals as well as others that threaten to further alter this town we call home. Yet some of those elected to serve as our town watchdogs are all for moving forward, making a ‘negative declaration’ that these projects will have zero impact on our town. That means the town board majority is agreeing that these new high-rise apartments will have zero impact on parking, on the neighborhoods they’d be altering, no need to check with the sewer district, the fire department about access and zero concerns about accessing water — even after our water district warned us of serious limitations.

No disrespect to Riverhead Planning Aide Greg Bergman, who is doing the best he can. But it’s disturbing that so many sizable projects — massive commercial solar facilities and multi-story apartment buildings — are being deemed ‘zero impact,’ not by an environmental planner but by an aide who is subbing for the head of our planning department — who we know has enough spare time to moonlight as a developer’s private consultant, ironically, as an environmental planner.

While it’s pretty obvious to most of us that “planning aide” and “environmental planner” are distinctly different jobs, and require different education and experience according to Civil Service, the supervisor readily accepts recommendations for negative declarations — sometimes when the department head isn’t even present, leaving the staff member to assume responsibility for these huge decisions. You don’t need hindsight to know what a mistake this is.

The full town board needs to do what they’ve promised and put our town first. They need to factor the impact of construction, mitigate the potential for damage. They need to ask developers what they’re willing to contribute to offset the financial and aesthetic costs of these projects. They need to meet with department heads to see what we may be missing or what would be needed before jumping ahead.

We need foresight. We need to gather facts, examine all aspects, and then make smart decisions that will be the best for Riverhead. We don’t want to keep having to look back to see what we should have done better, knowing it’s too late for anything but regrets.

Laura Jens-Smith served as Riverhead town supervisor from 2018 to 2019. She is a member of the Riverhead Town Democratic Committee and currently serves as treasurer of the campaign committees of candidates Catherine Kent, who is running for supervisor and Evelyn Hobson, who is running for council member. She lives in Laurel.

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