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The committee originally tasked with creating Riverhead Town’s local law regulating the location of recreational marijuana dispensaries and lounges will reconvene tomorrow, after members of the business community said the zoning laws were too restrictive. 

Town officials will review the current zoning law in place with the committee and seek opinions on whether it should be changed to allow for marijuana businesses to be sited on more properties, Council Member Ken Rothwell said in a phone call today. The meeting is tomorrow night at 6 p.m. at Town Hall and is open to the public.

Rothwell said the maps created recently by the town’s GIS administrator — taking in all the town’s regulations — show only six properties can site marijuana businesses. 

In February, the Riverhead Business Advisory Committee sent a letter to the Town Board asking for the law to be revised, calling it “overly restrictive.” A map created by the town’s GIS administrator in April showed that marijuana businesses could be sited at just 36 parcels in the entire town. A subsequent RiverheadLOCAL analysis of that map showed many of those parcels are actually ineligible under the town zoning to site marijuana businesses, or are already fully developed, or already have tenants.

“We’re just trying to bring to their attention that the restrictions in place right now have a very, very limited availability towards where these locations may be,” Rothwell said. “And we don’t want to put ourselves against any of the New York state guidelines, where New York State is saying… the legislation has got to be fair.” 

The town held three forums in late 2021 and early 2022, in order to have the committee and other interested community members help craft the local law before Rothwell introduced a draft of the legislation to the Town Board. 

Many of the suggestions during those discussions were incorporated into the law adopted in November by the Town Board in a 4-1 vote. Although intended to allow marijuana shops along Route 58, the draft that came in front of the Town Board included a previously unmentioned restriction that prohibits marijuana businesses from locating within 1,000 feet of any residential use — which has made dispensaries possible in only a select few locations. 

The distance restriction for residential properties were not reflected in maps presented during the law’s public hearing. Rothwell acknowledged the maps were inaccurate in an interview after the hearing, but the board adopted the local law anyway without knowing the full extent of its restrictions. He has said the town could loosen the restrictions if they became too cumbersome for prospective businesses.

“I would say that it’s unfair,” Rothwell said of the current legislation, “meaning that it all seems to just fall in one spot in the Town of Riverhead; it’s not what we were looking for.”

“We were looking for something more of a broader spectrum, so that it’s all not in one place in Riverhead, where it can have some options throughout the town,” Rothwell said. “So whether somebody wants to be in one in Wading River, one in Jamesport, one in Calverton,” so it’s “balanced.”

There is currently a pause on the issuance of marijuana licenses by the state. A judge ordered last month that regulators stop issuing licenses pending the outcome of lawsuits centered on whether the state giving licensing priority to people convicted of marijuana-relate

d offenses and their close family members violates state law, according to the New York Times. 

Rothwell said the Town Board has not received any notices from a licensee about opening a shop in Riverhead, as required by state law. The town’s building department has received inquiries about marijuana shops, Rothwell said, but there have been no detailed discussions.

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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