Calverton residents packed the Town Hall meeting room for the Dec. 20 town Board meeting to demand a moratorium on new industrial development in their hamlet. Photo: Denise Civiletti

A split Town Board on Wednesday declined to schedule a public hearing on a proposed moratorium on industrial development in Calverton, with a majority turning their backs on Calverton residents who have turned out in force to press the board to hit the brakes on development in the hamlet.

The resolution on the Town Board’s agenda today would have scheduled a Jan. 18 public hearing on proposed legislation enacting a six-month moratorium on new development in the Industrial A, Industrial B and Industrial C zoning districts in the hamlet of Calverton. The resolution was moved by Council Member Tim Hubbard and seconded by Council Member Frank Beyrodt. Hubbard and Beyrodt were the only two members to vote in support of holding the public hearing.

Hubbard, who at first advocated for an 18-month moratorium pending completion of the town’s long-delayed comprehensive plan update, then agreed to pare it back to six months in the hope of winning support on the board, said in an interview after today’s meeting the vote was a severe blow to effective land use planning in the Town of Riverhead.

A moratorium may be dead “right now,” Hubbard said. “We’ll have to explore other options,” he said. “Time is of the essence.”

But the three members who voted against scheduling a public hearing don’t seem to be open to reconsidering.

Council Member Bob Kern said, “from the beginning,” he said he would “look at a code with exemptions,” but would not support “a blanket (moratorium), even for six months.”

Council Member Ken Rothwell said he is opposed to a moratorium because he does not believe it’s “proper” for the town to take away the property rights of land owners by passing a moratorium. Further, he said, a six month moratorium would not accomplish anything, because the planning work would be nowhere near completed in that time.

“I do like to hear and I always ask for the public’s input but I think at this time, doing my own due diligence and my own research, I don’t think it’s the right way to proceed,” Rothwell said before voting no.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar spoke during the meeting about how a moratorium would trample on the rights of property owners.

“We don’t want an over-saturation,” Aguiar said, referring to proposed industrial projects pending in Calverton. “But we can’t stop progress.”

The supervisor, as she had in the past, again questioned the legality of imposing what she also called a “blanket” moratorium proposed by Hubbard.

“I’m not going to vote to hear from the public on a faulty resolution,” Aguiar said. “This should be dealt with and it can be dealt with, right now, through code,”she said, without offering an explanation of what she meant.

After Aguiar cast the deciding vote against the public hearing, Hubbard spoke up. “Just for the record, I want to state that there is nothing illegal about this,” he said.

A number of people got up to the podium before the vote to urge support for the public hearing – and a number of people stood up after the vote to complain about the result.

Former Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said she was “shocked” that the board voted against holding a public hearing.

“I just cannot believe that that you guys did not vote to hold a public hearing for this moratorium,” she said. “Week after week, after week, after month after month, for years now, the community, the constituents of you, the taxpayers of this town, have been coming forward to ask for a moratorium,” Jens-Smith said. “They asked to be heard. This was your opportunity to hold a public hearing on record for them to comment on this moratorium and the comprehensive plan. And you voted no. Unbelievable. Unbelievable.”

Kathy McGraw of Northville told the board she feels like the community members are beating their heads against a concrete wall when coming to the board to voice opinions.

Richard Cole, a resident of Foxwood Village in Calverton, said as a relatively new resident of Riverhead, he marvels at how the board seems to side with developers rather than their constituents.

“And yet you the board, sit there and don’t listen to your constituents. I don’t know how you sit there in good conscience agree to side with these developers and totally ignore the residents of the town of Riverhead,” Cole said.

“I don’t understand how you could sit there and go to sleep at night making these decisions that you make when it’s obvious it doesn’t agree with the people that voted to put you in office,” he said. “I don’t understand that. I really don’t. And I just pray to God that when your terms are up, you don’t get voted back into office because you’re not doing your job,” Cole said.

Advocates for developers in Calverton urged the board not to move forward with a public hearing before board members cast their vote.

Kyle Strober, the executive director of the Association for a Better Long Island and a representative for the Long Island Builders Institute, said industrial development is “the backbone of our economy.” He said developments like warehouses and distribution centers play a critical role for local businesses.

“[Industrial developments] create tax revenue for the town, also for the county and the state. They create hundreds of jobs, and they have a much more substantial impact than they did anyone else to the school districts,” Strober said. “Therefore, when you place a moratorium on the local developments, the local municipality is effectively reducing the town’s tax base and shifting the burden onto the residents.”

Strober also raised a point that has been repeatedly stated by Aguiar throughout discussion of a potential moratorium: that the town could face legal challenges to its moratorium from property owners. The Town Board has been advised by Town Attorney Erik Howard that a moratorium, for the purposes of adopting or amending a comprehensive plan, is legal and would withstand legal challenges.

Patrick Doyle, executive director of Ignite LI, a manufacturing trade association, said a moratorium “diminishes” companies’ ability to grow in the region, which results in people losing their jobs.

Toqui Terchun, president of the Greater Calverton Civic Association, said in an interview after the meeting she and other members of her civic were extremely disappointed by the board’s vote.

“How in the world do you entertain public hearings for all kinds pf land uses throughout the year and refuse to have this public hearing,” Terchun said.

“How do you spend more than $700,000 on a comp plan but then think it’s OK to make land use decisions outside the planning process? And think you have enough information and professionalism to pull that off? It just doesn’t make sense,” Terchun said.

“How do they do that and look us in the eye?” she asked.

“If they don’t think they need to hear form us,” Terchun said, “They don’t belong in public office.”

Editors note: This article was amended the day after initial publication to include comments from speakers urging the board to vote against the resolution setting a public hearing for the moratorium.

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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.