A large wooded parcel on Route 58 is cleared to make way for a big box retail store in 2019. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Over the course of the last four decades, and as a homeowner and taxpayer in Riverhead town for 15 years, I have watched with frequent sadness and sometimes outright despair, as Riverhead Town has consistently failed to recognize the consequences and direct public costs of overdevelopment. 

To be sure, the town’s leadership has had its champions, and they are to be applauded, but  lasting progress toward a sustainable future has often lagged well behind the region, as the town continuously embraces the kind of urbanizing sprawl that has erased so much of Long Island’s remarkable history and natural resources, and driven taxes through the roof. 

While there have been some colossal blunders and backsliding to be sure, it remains an undeniable truth that every other East End town has at least come to understand and actively pursue the public and economic values of stringent conservation and community-based planning measures. In the face of this regional evolution of thinking, Riverhead marches on, either blissfully ignorant, or perhaps blinded by an unconscious denial of the cliff that inevitably awaits those municipalities that endlessly try and build their way out of their problems. 

That a majority on the Riverhead Town Board, despite pleas from its own Planning Board, and overwhelming public outcry, would not even consider taking public comment on a limited development moratorium to fully evaluate the impacts of millions of square feet of newly proposed industrial development in Calverton, tells you all you need to know about where the town is headed — and  it’s no place good. 

Incredibly, Riverhead remains a beautiful place with a demonstrated capacity to somehow endure despite decades of unrelenting development pressure. That said, the town’s capacity to absorb an ever-rising tide of bad land use decisions is not endless. In fact, the final chapters of the town’s land use patterns and community character are being written right now, and cannot be ignored, or pushed off to the future. 

If there is a road home toward the kind of future that Riverhead residents deserve, it must be built by an elected leadership that is committed to a long-term and sustainable model for the future, not by short-term convenience, or a general indifference to the community it serves. Real planning is hard work and it must be allowed to proceed with enough room for intelligent ideas to be considered, improved land use requirements to be adopted, and public discourse to be welcomed. Each of these measures is well within the town board’s power to achieve, but they will never occur if the town does not quickly change its course and honor the importance of a future built around the stated needs of its community. That’s what actual progress looks like — not rampant, careless, overdevelopment.  

The Town Board can and must do better, and it should start with a moratorium on the expansive development proposals that will change the character and future of Calverton forever, and the immediate completion of a town-wide master plan that is languishing in the face of unprecedented need.  

Bob DeLuca, an environmental scientist and advocate, has served as President and CEO of Group for the East End since 1992.

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