Riverhead Town Board members during Thursday's work session. Photo: Alek Lewis

The Town Board will hire BFJ Planning of New York City to finish Riverhead’s comprehensive plan update, a majority of board members agreed during today’s work session.

The planning firm was one of three being considered by the Town Board after it terminated its contract with prior consultants AKRF in July, citing inadequate progress on the update. 

Additionally, Town Board members in favor of BFJ said they want to retain L.K. McLean Associates of Brookhaven, the engineering subcontractor hired to conduct traffic and infrastructure analysis under the AKRF contract. BFJ’s proposal did not address traffic and infrastructure analysis. 

Under BFJ’s proposal, which was presented to the board last week, the work is estimated to cost $299,000 and take around 14 months to complete. LKMA has $123,000 of work left to do “providing nothing changes from their prior scope,” Building and Planning Administrator Jefferson Murphree said in an interview after the meeting.

MORE COVERAGE: Town Board likely to decide next week on hiring firm to finish comprehensive plan update

Reasons cited by board members for their decision to hire BFJ includes the firm’s expertise in transfer of development rights programs, the firm’s proposed use of AKRF’s public outreach work, the price of the firm’s proposal compared to estimate from H2M, the other finalist under consideration, and the firm’s proposed environmental review process running parallel to working on the plan. 

Murphree recommended that the board hire BFJ. He cited the firm’s experience working with Downtown Revitalization Initiative projects — Riverhead Town received $10 million for downtown projects through the state program this year — as well as the firm’s “innovative” work in the City of New Rochelle with downtown projects. 

“From a SEQRA [state environmental quality review act] standpoint, I was very, very excited to hear about the concurrency SEQRA review process concurrent with the review of the entire comp plan,” Murphree added.

“For me that gave them the edge,” Council Member Frank Beyrodt said. “We really need to get this going and get it completed.”

BFJ Planning Associate Principal Noah Levine (left) and Principal Frank Fish (right) at the Town Board’s work session on Aug. 18.
Photo: Alek Lewis

Murphree also recommended the town continue to use LKMA. “We had no complaints about them. Sometimes they, as traffic engineers, they tend to speak bluntly about sensitive community issues. We’ll have to work on that. But their traffic knowledge is second to none,” he said.

LKMA has made one batch of recommendations since the comprehensive plan update started, including adding new turning lanes and traffic signals to “critical intersections” on major town roads. The firm also made the controversial recommendation of widening Sound Avenue to add a two-way center turning lane to ease congestion.

Murphree said in an interview after Thursday’s work session that he has been unable to get in contact with representatives of LKMA since last week’s presentation. He said he talked to LKMA President Ray DiBiase before that meeting and said DiBiase was willing to continue the firm’s work on the plan.

Not all board members were in agreement during the work session. Council Member Ken Rothwell said he favored hiring H2M Architects + Engineers, the other firm up for consideration by the board, because he believed they would do a more thorough job on the plan and have done projects for the town in the past.

“I think that BFJ is relying a lot on the prior work that was done by AKRF, but I just think the community involvement, everything I honestly think was a failure altogether,“ Rothwell said. He added that Town Hall “never reached out to the western side of the town.”

H2M’s proposal called for an expansion of the public engagement work done by AKRF compared to BFJ’s proposal. H2M’s proposal was estimated to cost upwards of $830,000.

He said the forums hosted by the town and AKRF had “the same 20 individuals at every single one, no matter what portion of town we discussed, or how people felt. It was the same individuals in the room and I didn’t get a good sense of how people felt in Wading river versus how people felt in Jamesport, and then all the towns in between.” 

“I think that H2M is going to be much more detailed. And I almost feel like they do have to start from scratch,” Rothwell said.

“I just want to do this the right way right from the beginning and yes, in my opinion, it may cost more, but you get what you pay for in the end,” he said.

Council Member Tim Hubbard said that BFJ is “more in tune with the East End,” having just completed a comprehensive plan for Southampton Village and having done the 2011 Wading River Route 25A corridor study for Riverhead Town.

MORE COVERAGE: Three planning firms pitch services to Riverhead Town Board for comprehensive plan update

The town has paid about half of the $675,000 it was contracted to pay AKRF before the contract was terminated, Financial Administrator Bill Rothaar has said. Muphree said that he requested $109,000 in next year’s budget go cover the cost of retaining BFJ and LKMA to complete the plan. The total $675,000 the town agreed to pay AKRF in 2019 was generated by community benefits and easement agreements with the developer of a Calverton solar facility by sPower.

A comprehensive plan is a document meant to guide the direction of a town’s planning and land development over the next 10-20 years. The Riverhead Town comprehensive plan was last updated in 2003.

Town Board members have stressed the importance of looking at newer industrial uses not analyzed in the 2003 plan in the update — including anaerobic digesters, solar energy production facilities and battery storage facilities —  and reassessing the town’s industrial zoning. Board members also said revising the town’s transfer of development rights program and the saturation limit of apartments within the downtown area are priorities.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: alek@riverheadlocal.com