More than 30 people attended the first hamlet meeting at the senior center in Aquebogue Sept. 13. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The hamlet meetings for the long-delayed comprehensive plan update got off to a bumpy start last week.

The meetings are the first chance for in-person community input into the comprehensive planning process, which is being undertaken by planning consultants AKRF Inc. and the Riverhead planning department.

The initial hamlet meeting, held Sept. 13 at the Riverhead Senior Center in Aquebogue, covered the hamlets of Aquebogue, Jamesport and Northville. It left those who attended both in person and via Zoom calling for a do-over.

People attempting to participate by Zoom could see neither see nor hear the presentation or discussion due to inadequate lighting, and lack of a direct audio or video feed to the Zoom conference.

The town tried, for the Zoom conference, to live stream the speakers and the slide presentation, which was projected onto a screen in the meeting room, using a video camera connected to a laptop. As a result, none of the text or images on the screen was visible to the Zoom attendees. And the sound emanating from ceiling-mounted speakers in the room produced such poor quality audio for the video conference that Zoom attendees said they could not understand anything that was being said.

Riverhead’s network and systems administrator, Chip Kreymborg adjusts the web cam he was using for Zoom participation in the planning meeting at the senior center Sept. 13. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Sid Bail, longtime Wading River Civic Association president, and the town’s designated community liaison to its “Central Advisory Committee” for the comprehensive plan update, was one of the Zoom attendees.

“I have had a tremendous problem understanding the audio through this, from the beginning of this presentation all the way through,”
he said. “It was really hard to follow.”

His comments made via Zoom were amplified for those present in the senior center meeting room by a hand-held microphone placed next to the laptop computer connected to the video conference. It was the only microphone available for use by presenters and community members and had to be walked around the room by the consulting firm staff and town Building and Planning Administrator Jefferson Murphree.

“I anticipate a very good fix for the next meeting, but unfortunately, tonight — This is the best we can do tonight,” replied Riverhead Town Networks and Systems Administrator Chip Kreymborg, who handles Zoom conferencing for the town’s public meetings.

“That’s kind of sad, because all the folks who came to this and  —I’m thinking about our meeting on the 27th,” Bail said, referring to the upcoming meeting for the hamlet of Wading River, “most of my people will be participating through Zoom. If it’s anything like this, it’s a travesty,” Bail replied.

“The problem is the only audio comes from ceiling speakers and tries to get to the webcam,” Kreymborg said. “It’s the same problem we had at Town Hall,” but, he said, it was corrected.

“So we’re in the same early days of Zoom we had at Town Hall. If the speakers came up here, to the Zoom table, it would be much better. You can probably hear me pretty clearly now, I’m guessing,” Kreymborg said.

“It’s the first time that I’ve been able to understand anyone. That’s sad. I wanted to listen to people,” Bail said.

Murphree stepped in to assure Bail the issues, which he called “the first technical glitch that we had with this new evolution of Zoom meetings in the senior center,” would be fixed.

Bail said it was hard to offer any comment on the meeting that night because he couldn’t understand what was going on.

Riverhead Building and Planning Administrator Jefferson Murphree at the Sept. 13 hamlet meeting. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, who opened up the meeting at the Senior Center but left the building after her remarks, said at the Sept. 21 town board meeting that the technical issues will be corrected before next week’s meetings, which are scheduled for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at the senior center.

The town recorded the meeting and the video is available on-demand on the town’s website here. It is also being shown on the government access channel 22 on Optimum cable. The channel 22 program guide is published here.

Residents of Jamesport and Aquebogue who attended the meeting in person voiced complaints about the hamlet boundaries depicted on maps prepared by the consultants and published by the town. Residents said the boundaries do not correspond to the historical boundaries of the hamlets.

The hamlet maps show the Aquebogue boundary extending east along Main Road to Washington Avenue, dividing that north-south thoroughfare between Aquebogue and Jamesport.

AKRF planner Lorianne DeFalco, the firm’s project manager for the Riverhead Comprehensive Plan update, said the boundaries shown on the maps are based on Census tract data.

“We may adjust the boundaries as we go through the planning process and obtain community feedback. This is just a way to organize data so that we can begin to identify hamlet-specific issues and opportunities,” DeFalco said.

But residents voiced strong objections to that approach.

“It seems to ignore the facts on the ground here that these boundaries are not representative of what the community thinks their boundaries are,” Greater Jamesport Civic Association President Jim Derenze said.

The maps depict a “contorted representation” of the hamlets, said Jamesport resident Elaine Duffy. “It’s almost insulting. I live in a house that’s almost 150 years old. It’s a preserved landmark. It’s the Washington Young House and it’s always, always, always been in Jamesport and the surrounding 50 acres that went with it,” she said. Area residents and civic association members have complained about it in their survey responses, Duffy said. Yet the maps displayed at the meeting had not been corrected, she said.

Some asked if the hamlet boundaries depicted on the maps would be officially adopted and result in changes to zip codes and legal documents, like drivers licenses.

AKRF principal Robert White said the hamlet map boundaries are “the way we’ve sort of started to organize the planning areas” and is “the beginning go the planning process,” he said. “We don’t have any intention of rezoning anyone’s hamlets or renaming your hamlet or changing zip codes,” White said.

“It’s wrong,” interjected Joan Cear of Jamesport. “We’ve been talking about this for four months now. And we come here and the map is still wrong,” Cear told White. “So you’re giving us lip service. I’m sorry.”

White said the planners would meet with the group again to “come up with a boundary that reflects ground conditions.”

Lawrence Oxman, a commercial real estate broker and investor with an office in downtown Riverhead, asked in a written comment submitted through Zoom (read by Kreymborg) for a copy of a the planners’ analysis of the outcome of the 2003 master plan.

“As we start this process of the comprehensive plan update is there a document that critiques the 2003 comprehensive plan in depth and detail, to review: One, have the goals and objectives been met? Number two, if a goal and objective has not been met, why not? And number three, is this goal and objective still valid and pertinent? If so, what can be done differently to meet this goal? An example,” Oxman wrote, “is the transfer of development rights.”

Oxman received no response from Murphree or anyone from AKRF.

He tried again later in the meeting with a second written comment. “So my question was, is there a document that specifically addresses, goal by goal, the objectives of the 2003 plan?. And have they been met? And are these still goals? A lot of work went into that plan. My concern is, is the baby getting thrown out with the bathwater. This is an update, not a new plan. And by update, that doesn’t mean there can’t be a new and unique goals,” Oxman said.

“The consultant is going to go through the different goals for each of the hamlets and update them,” Murphree replied. They would determine if there were goals that were not achieved that “require revisiting,” Murphree said.

“As I mentioned, there’s a goal in the 2003 update that says recommends two to three story buildings in downtown Jamesport,” Murphree said. “I would recommend that we revisit, because I don’t think that the community today would think that is a good goal. It might, I don’t know, but I would recommend that we revisit it,” he said.

The 2003 comprehensive plan seems to contradict itself in this regard. In the section titled “Goals and Policies for Jamesport” in Chapter 6, “Business District Element,” the plan does not recommend two- or three-story buildings in the Jamesport “downtown.” There, the document stresses retaining the historic character of the hamlet center to “promote tourism-oriented specialty shopping in the historic hamlet center” near the South Jamesport Avenue intersection.

“Building on the established niche of antique stores, Jamesport should provide space for additional furnishing stores, as well as art galleries, arts and crafts shops, sit-down restaurants, cafes, specialty food shops, and other similar businesses,” the 2003 plan says.

But in the “Housing Element” (Chapter 8) the plan suggests as a strategy to increase the supply of rental housing gin the town: “Allow second- and third-floor housing to be built above ground-floor “‘Main Street’ retail uses in downtown riverhead; in the hamlet centers of Jamesport, Aquebogue and Wading River; and in the Polish Town business district.”

Riverhead Planning Board member Richard O’Dea, who was chairman of the planning board when the 2003 Comprehensive Plan was developed and adopted, said in an interview that planning document never had multiple-story buildings as a goal for the Jamesport hamlet center. O’Dea, who lives in Jamesport, said the idea of a multi-story building in the vicinity of Manor Lane “was bantered about” but never seriously considered.

The zoning use districts adopted for “downtown” Jamesport to implement the 2003 comprehensive plan — the Hamlet Center and Village Center districts — allow a maximum height of 35 feet. But the codes stress they are intended to create pedestrian-friendly, small-scale, “Main Street” areas.

“Building shape, proportions, massing, and design should be appropriate to the historic character of the hamlet in which the building is located,” the zoning code says.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent and Councilman Ken Rothwell attended the meeting at the senior center.

Kent said that night she thought the town and consultants should schedule another meeting for the eastern hamlets, because the technical difficulties made it impossible for residents to participate remotely in a meaningful way.

Members of the Greater Jamesport Civic Association at the group’s meeting Saturday morning expressed their concerns again about the boundary line issues.

Some said they worried that it would add to existing confusion that exists because local residents there do not get mail delivered by the local post offices. If they want to have be delivered by the Riverhead Post Office — addressed to their street address in Aquebogue or Jamesport but with “Riverhead 11901” as the town and zip code.

Civic members also said they thought the town should hold the hamlet meeting for the Jamesport, Aquebogue and Northville hamlets again, so that the people who were trying to participate by Zoom would be able to do so.

Kent, who attended the civic meeting Saturday morning, said she emailed the consultants to ask for a second meeting for the three eastern hamlets.

Some civic association members expressed surprise that the planners at the meeting said they were there to listen to input from residents and not to answer questions. They gave an overview of the planning process and then opened the meeting to comments from residents.

“I didn’t realize the meeting wasn’t going to be interactive,” Greater Jamesport Civic Association Vice President Steve Green said Saturday, expressing puzzlement at the way the meeting was structured.

Upcoming hamlet meetings, which will be held at the Riverhead Senior Center beginning at 6 p.m., are scheduled as follows:

  • Monday, Sept. 27 for Wading River and Manorville;
  • Tuesday, Sept. 28 for Calverton and Baiting Hollow; and
  • Wednesday, Sept. 29 for Riverhead and downtown Riverhead.

Zoom links for each meeting are published here.

The planners are asking the community to complete a survey, which can be accessed here. They are also seeking input from the community on an interactive map published here.

AKRF was hired by the town in late 2019 to prepare an update to the 2003 Comprehensive Plan. It was originally too be completed, along with a generic environmental impact statement, by the end of February 2021. Two months after the contract was signed, the COVID-19 outbreak struck and derailed the planning process. There was new “kickoff” in September 2020 and the town renegotiated some of the terms of the agreement and the completion date, which has been pushed back to the fall of 2022.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect the suggestion in the 2003 comprehensive plan that a strategy to increase the supply of rental housing would be to allow second- and third-floor housing to be built above ground-floor “‘Main Street’ retail uses in downtown riverhead; in the hamlet centers of Jamesport, Aquebogue and Wading River; and in the Polish Town business district.” That strategy, set forth in the “Housing Element” seems to contradict the goals and recommendations set forth in the “Business District Element” of the 2003 document. We updated the story after Building and Planning Administrator Jefferson Murphree pointed out the statements in the “Housing Element” chapter, to which he was referring at the Sept. 13 meeting.

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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.