The Riverhead Town Board is expected to choose the firm that will finish the update to the comprehensive plan as soon as next week.
With the submission of proposals and price estimates from two finalists — H2M Architects + Engineers and BFJ Planning — the Town Board met with both firms at Thursday’s work session, where board members and firm representatives talked about the details of the proposals.
The candidates differed significantly in price. H2M estimated the cost of the firm’s work on the plan to be upwards of $830,000, significantly higher than BFJ’s estimate of around $300,000. But the firms proposed quite different scopes of services.
BFJ’s estimate did not include new outreach to community stakeholders, transportation and mobility analysis or infrastructure and utilities analysis, which were all included in H2M’s estimate. H2M’s estimate, in addition, included drafting an energy plan and drafting new codes to implement the comprehensive plan update.
The town started looking for a new firm to take over planning work after Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, citing inadequate progress on the update, announced in June that the board would terminate the contract with consultants, AKRF.
H2M, BFJ and a third firm, Cashin Associates, met with the board during a work session in August, but said they could not provide specific proposals, estimated timelines or estimated fees because the town did not provide them with information about what AKRF had completed before its contract was terminated. At that time, a website for the plan update created by AKRF was inaccessible, although Building and Planning Administrator Jefferson Murphree said in an interview that the town had everything on file, but had not supplied the consultants with the documents before the meeting.
Cashin Associates, was not invited back for Thursday’s meeting.
H2M is proposing a nine-month time frame to complete the comprehensive plan’s recommendations and then another 12 months for the required environmental review of the plan before adoption. H2M would subcontract work out to Greenman Pedersen Inc. for traffic and transportation analysis and to TDR by Design for revision of the town’s transfer of development rights program.
H2M representatives told the board Thursday that one of the only things usable from AKRF’s prior work was its public engagement information. AKRF hosted several community meetings to get public input in the process: one round of “hamlet meetings” focused on the 11 hamlets in the town, and two rounds of “topic meetings” focused on topics such as economic development, farmland preservation and housing. It also held stakeholder meetings with town department heads and met with the town’s central advisory committee and it conducted an online survey and collected data with an online social pinpoint map.
H2M representatives said they would also likely have to interview community stakeholders themselves in the plan’s development process, including Town Board advisory committees, department heads and the ad-hoc central advisory committee formed to oversee the update’s development — since town officials seemed dissatisfied with AKRF engagement with them. Although they also said much of that work, which costs roughly $82,000, is “optional.”
“There are stakeholders that were identified that hadn’t been contacted, which really needs to be a part of this process,” said Patricia DelCol, the client manager and assistant vice president of H2M.
There is also some background research of prior planning work from AKRF, including land preservation research which is in a draft form, as well as a housing analysis that can be used, H2M Practice Leader Sanyogita Chavan said.
Chavan, who would act as the project manager on the plan, said one of the most important things the firm would need to do if hired is conduct a “visioning session.”
“We haven’t been provided with goals and objectives that was agreed upon. What we noticed was everything from the 2003 plan,” Chavan said. “So that’s the reason why we made an assumption that we’ll need to review and interact with whomever we need to to develop the goals and objectives.”
H2M’s proposal also includes a layout of each task for the plan and the hours it would take to complete them.
“When I looked over your proposal, it seems that you are much more extensive, and more in depth than the other proposal,” Council Member Ken Rothwell said. “And I think, correct me if I’m wrong, you’re kind of relying less on the work that was already done, reviewing things more.”
H2M’s proposal also includes an add-on to draft an energy plan, which would analyze energy production in the town and is “not typical of a comprehensive plan,” DelCol said. That costs $25,000. Another add-on is also the drafting of code amendments to implement the plan in conjunction with the town attorney’s office, which would cost another $30,000.
BFJ representatives said the work on the plan if they were hired would take around 14 months in total.
They also said they can use the public outreach work conducted by AKRF, but said they also could use the work developed by LK McLean Associates, the subcontractors for transportation and infrastructure analysis under AKRF’s contract.
Principal Frank Fish said the firm’s $299,000 estimate was made without estimates for both transportation and mobility, and infrastructure and utilities analyses, which were tasks delegated to LKMA. Fish said if the town board is happy with the work that LKMA did with AKRF as consultants, the town could elect to hire the firm to continue as consultants. Fish said he has been in contact with LKMA and the information is available with the board’s consent.
LKMA President Raymond DiBlase did not return a phone call requesting comment before this article was published. Murphree said in an email he has been unable to get in contact with LKMA since the meeting. He said only about half of the work that LKMA was hired to do on the plan was completed by the firm.
“I was confused by the two statements as well about using LK McLean Associates,” Murphree said in an email. “I recommend that we continue using them for the transportation element of the [comprehensive plan update], but the Town Board has to make that decision.”
H2M representatives said LKMA is not willing to work with them on the plan, and instead they would hire the engineering firm Greenman Pedersen Inc. as consultants for the transportation element of the plan.
In an interview after the meeting, BFJ Associate Principal Noah Levine said the price for the traffic and infrastructure analysis for the plan, if LKMA is not retained, ranges from $20,000 to $150,000, depending on the work that needs to be done.
BFJ also did not include in a cost estimate for drafting zoning amendments. “It’s very hard to write a scope in the budget for that. We really don’t know what is going to occur, you know?” Levine said. “There could be anything from just small text amendments to…form-based code or something that’s really substantial. That requires a tremendous amount of work, and then perhaps additional environmental review.”
Council Member Tim Hubbard asked both firms during the discussion how they justify the difference between their prices.
“I believe our proposal is far more comprehensive,: DelCol said. “I believe that we’ve put a lot more legwork into it and I think it’s demonstrated in the body of the proposal. And we believe that this is what’s necessary for the town to achieve your goal of a comprehensive plan that’s really going to help you steer development into the future.
“We will use any information that we can possibly use [from AKRF],” DelCol said. “Nobody has a desire to repeat, to do something over again. As Sam said, we all have government backgrounds. We’re all very sensitive to the budget constraints that you’re under. But we want to give you a quality document, we can’t give you a quality document for $299,000. The SEQRA component alone is over $200,000.”
Fish said BFJ believes AKRF and LKMA did do “a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of work that we can utilize. Not all of it, but they did a lot.”
Part of that price disparity between the firms is also simply that H2M charges more than BFJ for the same tasks, the estimates show. For instance, H2M would charge $140,000 more than BFJ for the environmental review element of the comprehensive plan update.
Both firms also differed in how they would handle the environmental review process, which will determine how quickly the board can adopt the plan.
BFJ is proposing that the environmental review process run parallel to the drafting of the comprehensive plan.
“You’ll see in our timeline that we are proposing to start SEQRA early in the process,” said Sarah Yackel, a BFJ principal that does environmental review. “There is, you know, in the regulations, it does recommend starting as early in the process as possible, we propose around month five or six to begin with that [environmental assessment] process.”
H2M Environmental Planner Lisa Rickmers estimated that the environmental review process can take around a year and the parallel process is not as feasible “because you have to do SEQRA to evaluate the impacts of the action. And the action in this case is going to be adopted as recommended changes that the comprehensive plan recommends.”
“There can be some overlap in the preparation of a comprehensive plan in terms of preparing for doing SEQRA,” Rickmers said. “We have communication within the H2M team, we’ll know the background data on the communities, the background community analyses. But to actually enter into scoping you really need to know what the action is.”
Town Board members said after the meeting that they still had unanswered questions that they would like to send to the firms before making their decision. Hubbard suggested that the Town Board discuss which firm they would choose during next week’s work session.
Riverhead embarked on updating its comprehensive plan, a document meant to guide the direction of a town’s planning and land development over the next 10-20 years, in 2019 when the Town Board issued a request for proposals and subsequently hired AKRF. Riverhead’s current comprehensive plan was started in 1999 and adopted in 2003.
Town Board members have stressed the importance of looking at newer industrial uses not analyzed in the 2003 plan — including anaerobic digesters, solar energy production facilities and battery storage facilities — and reassessing the town’s industrial zoning.
The comprehensive plan must also include the impacts of logistics centers in its analysis, Hubbard said during the discussion.
“They’re outdated,” Hubbard said during the H2M discussion of the industrial zoning. “They’re in areas now that have over the past 19 years become more residential. And we’re getting our doors knocked off of us for development in those areas. So we need to strongly look at the industrial areas, particularly in the Calverton area, and decide what we can and what we can’t do.
“We know it’s a two-edged sword,” Hubbard added. “We know that if we removed the industrial zoning, we’re going to lose tax base. And that’s something the residents have to understand. But on the other side of it it’s a beautiful area. And I’m not sure I want to open up my back door and look at a 50-foot high warehouse in my backyard when it’s a beautiful historic farming-type atmosphere.”
The board also wants to revise the town’s transfer of development rights program and the saturation limit of apartments within the town.
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