A crowd turned out Thursday evening to watch the Riverhead Planning Board unanimously approve a resolution calling on the Town Board to adopt a moratorium on all development applications in the Industrial A, Industrial B and Industrial C zoning districts in Calverton.
Planning Board members agreed at their last meeting on Oct. 20 that they would endorse the idea of a moratorium. The board directed the planning department to draft a resolution recommending the moratorium for action at its Nov. 3 meeting.
The Greater Calverton Civic Association started asking for a moratorium in the fall of 2020, but the idea did not gain traction with the Town Board. Recent applications for warehousing and logistics centers in Calverton, as well as a proposal for an air cargo logistics hub included in a plan presented to the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency by the Triple Five affiliate in contract to buy most of the town’s remaining land at the Calverton Enterprise Park, have filled the seats in the Town Hall meeting room for recent Town Board and Planning Board meetings. Numerous speakers have stood at the podium asking town officials to act to block new development while the stalled comprehensive plan update is completed.
Following the Oct. 20 Planning Board meeting, Council Member Tim Hubbard on Oct. 27 brought the question of a Calverton moratorium up at a Town Board work session. His proposal that day for an 18-month moratorium only took in new warehouse development applications in Calverton. The board reacted with little enthusiasm. Council Members Bob Kern and Ken Rothwell expressed concerns about potential negative impacts of a moratorium. Kern said it would stall tax base growth. Rothwell said it would jeopardize developer-funded improvements to the water district’s infrastructure. Council Member Frank Beyrodt did not express his opinion during the work session discussion but in a phone interview the next day said he is “not opposed to the moratorium” but would “like to see it a little bit shorter.”
Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said at last week’s work session she was willing to consider a moratorium, but advocated making it apply only to future applications or applications at the very beginning of the review process — “grandfathering” proposals that have already had substantial review at substantial expense on the part of developers for application fees and studies, she said. Three large pending applications — HK Ventures, NorthPoint’s Riverhead Logistics Center and Ostad’s Calverton Industrial Subdivision would meet that criteria, Aguiar said.
The Planning Board resolution approved last night, which did not suggest how long a moratorium should remain in place, recommends that the moratorium should capture all site plan, special permit and subdivision applications, as well as applications for use variances and area variances in the industrial zones in Calverton.
The moratorium recommendation does not include the two industrial zoning use districts within the Calverton Enterprise Park: the Planned Industrial Park district, which applies to the already mostly developed 490 acres of the “industrial core,” and the Planned Development District, adopted in 2016 to govern development in the remaining vacant areas of the enterprise park.
It did not suggest a length of time for the moratorium.
The planning board resolution recites a litany of reasons why the Calverton moratorium is necessary while the comprehensive plan update is written, including the age of the current comprehensive plan, prepared between 1999 and 2003, when it was adopted by the Town Board. The existing plan does not contemplate uses that are being proposed today, such as large-scale “high cube” warehousing and distribution centers.
The reasons cited also include the number of pending development proposals currently being studied, comprising about 245 acres and totaling more than 3.3 million square feet of potential industrial development. Another reason is the amount of potential industrial space in Calverton within the three industrial zones suggested for inclusion in the moratorium, which the resolution puts at more than 12 million square feet.
It also references the current lack of availability of connections to a municipal sewage treatment plant or the Riverhead Water District and discusses inconsistencies between current county health department limitations for development absent those connections and the existing town code provisions, including the vast difference between county regulations and the town code for allowable lot coverage: 17% under the county rules and 40% under the town code.
“(T)he present unprecedented industrial development has the potential to create significant impacts to air-quality, traffic congestion, water supply infrastructure, and other potentially significant environmental impacts, as well as the potential to cause large scale loss of some of the last remaining forested areas; loss, isolation or fragmentation of remaining open space areas; and loss or isolation of prime agricultural soils within the Hamlet of Calverton,” which the resolution notes has been identified as being in an environmental justice area.
“(P)roper planning requires a carefully thought-out review process and analysis that balances the need for job creation and economic growth while preserving the rural character and natural environment which defines the Hamlet of Calverton,” the resolution states.
The audience greeted the Planning Board vote last night with sustained applause. Before and after the vote, residents took the podium to thank the board for its action and concern for the community.
“I would like to thank the board for listening to the residents and acting on behalf of the residents with the proposed moratorium,” said Claudette Bianco of Baiting Hollow. “I’m glad you took the time to listen to what was… being said and acting in that respect, putting it to the board.”
Greater Calverton Civic Association President Toqui Terchun thanked the Planning Board for the resolution. “You’ve done what we have been asking for two years plus, also in front of the Town Board, and yet you took the action. It matters to us. Calverton cares. And we’re going to remember it,” Terchun said.
“I would just like to say that this is something that was worked on by this entire board,” Planning Board Chairperson Joann Waski replied. “We worked together. Nobody gets credit for it. Did it all together for you guys. We listened to you,” Waski said to applause. “We love you guys. We love to Riverhead. That’s why we’re here,” Waski said, drawing more applause and shouts of “thank you” from audience members.
In an unusual move, the town supervisor took the podium and addressed the Planning Board last night before it took up the resolutions on its agenda. Reading from a prepared statement, she said she would bring the Planning Board’s recommendation to the Town Board for its consideration.
“I am present here today before you to clarify with facts what led to the Resolution 101 before you, ‘A moratorium on the saturation of large scale projects in Calverton.’ I want to make it perfectly clear. Your last Planning Board meeting was not the first time that this issue was addressed in Town Hall,” Aguiar said.
Aguiar said she met on Sept. 29 with the Planning Board chairperson, who, she said “shared concerns on the number of projects filed at the planning department.” They agreed to look into the matter separately and reconvene. On Oct. 5, she met with the town’s “chief planner Jefferson Murphree and planner Jeff Bergman,” she said, referring to planner Greg Bergman. They informed her of the possibility of an opinion from the Planning Board, Aguiar said, adding “which was is what it is, it’s an opinion.”
The supervisor said she met with residents of the Calverton town home development Windcrest East on Middle Road for more than two hours on Oct. 11, when they expressed concerns “about a nearby large-scale project,” referring to the Riverhead Logistics Center proposal at 1743 Middle Road, opposite Manor Road, a short drive from the Windcrest East development.
She said she meet with the Planning Board chairperson at the board’s attorney one hour before the Oct. 20 meeting to discuss the matter further.
“I want to make it clear that this matter was being addressed as comprehensively — as comprehensively as possible,” Aguiar told the Planning Board. “And it was not sitting at Town Hall on a desk collecting dust. Inquiries were being made,” she said.
“Please note good governance is about researching, as in hard court — hard court questions, regardless of the answers that are received,” Aguiar said. “Asking questions does not indicate you are in favor or oppose to an issue at home, as some ill-advised individuals have indicated recently,” Aguiar said. “It is an intellectual approach for seeking information to make informed, practical decisions that will result in the creation of good, sound legislation,” she said.
As a result of her inquiries she is “a more informed legislator …and understand(s) as a resident the matter that’s being discussed,” the supervisor said.
“I ask you to please move the resolution, which is an opinion, forward, and in turn, I will move it forward to the Town Board for their consideration because they are the legislators to this matter,” Aguiar said.
“Thereafter, we will hold a public hearing to engage the entire community in a civil fashion, free of political inspirations or political grandstanding, attacks and the creation of falsehoods regarding the resolution at hand,” she said.
Aguiar did not elaborate on her comments or indicate the person or people she was referring to in her criticisms. She did not respond to a voicemail message seeking comment on these questions and on whether she believes a majority of the board would support going to a hearing on a moratorium proposal.
After thanking the Planning Board, Aguiar left the meeting room.
Hubbard, who last week asked the Town Board to consider a moratorium on warehouses and logistics centers in Calverton, said he watched the recording of the Planning Board meeting and saw the supervisor’s appearance.
“The supervisor’s favorite phrase lately seems to be ‘it’s political, it’s political.’ I would say that dog-and-pony show last night was political,” Hubbard said.
“If she’s had all these meetings that she spouted about at the planning board last night, where’s the result of the meetings?” he asked.
“When I decided that I wanted to address this and I was in favor of putting a moratorium out, I met with Jefferson Murphree, we worked out exactly what we wanted in the draft and I put it together and then I requested for it to be put on last Thursday’s work session, which it was,” Hubbard said. “It was put on for work session. It was listed under my name as a discussion item.”
The supervisor never mentioned that she was planning to ask the board to consider a moratorium, Hubbard said. “You would have thought, when I asked for to to be put on the work session agenda — she’s the one who controls the work session — you would have thought she would have reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, Tim, I’ve been working on this for weeks now with Joann Waski.’ But she didn’t. And she didn’t say anything like that at the work session either,” Hubbard said.
Hubbard said he believes there’s a good chance a majority of the board will vote to support a moratorium.
He said he’s been talking to board members and has discussed the possibility of a 12-month moratorium rather than the 18-month time-out he suggested on Oct. 27. They’ve also been talking about carving out an exemption for “benign uses” as Council Member Bob Kern suggested last week.
“I think we’re looking maybe to pinpoint more specifically the type of development we don’t want, while possibly still allowing a benign type of development to come in,” he said. “So we’re going to hammer that out.”
Hubbard said he doubts a majority of Town Board members would support the broad moratorium advocated by the Planning Board, but wants to discuss it.
“I would support a lockdown on everything for 12 months,” he said.
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