A much-anticipated vote on two moratorium measures sought by residents and introduced by Council Member Tim Hubbard but resisted by a reluctant board majority did not take place last week. One would pause industrial development in Calverton, including warehouses, and the other would put the brakes on commercial battery energy storage systems — uses that have come under intense public scrutiny.
“They’re going to be up on the Nov. 21 Town Board meeting… They had to make some changes to them based on some recommendations from the planning commission,” Council Member Tim Hubbard said during Thursday’s Town Board meeting, in response to a resident’s inquiry about the status of the moratoriums. He did not elaborate on what the town needed to change. “So that’s the only reason.”
The Suffolk County Planning Commission on Nov. 1 declined to support Hubbard’s six-month industrial moratorium proposal. The planning commission authorized a three-month moratorium instead. The planning commission supported Riverhead’s proposed three-month BESS moratorium.
The county planning commission has the authority to make formal recommendations to local municipalities about land-use and planning policies and laws — including the approval of major actions like moratoriums.
For the Town Board to act contrary to the planning commission’s recommendation, it needs to muster a four-vote supermajority. However, only three of the five board members — Hubbard and Council Members Frank Beyrodt and Ken Rothwell — have said they’d support the industrial moratorium proposal. The board can move forward with the three-month moratorium recommended by the planning commission with a simple majority vote.
When the moratorium resolutions were not on the Town Board’s Nov. 9 agenda, Barbara Blass of Jamesport, a former council member and planning board chairperson, inquired. She said the board could have amended the industrial moratorium resolution “in the normal course of business” to comply with the planning commission’s recommendations. She citied information published on the commission’s website. The board does not need to go back to the commission, Blass noted.
Hubbard repeated that the moratoriums will be voted on Nov. 21.
Blass asked why the BESS moratorium was not on the agenda, since the planning commission approved what the town requested.
Hubbard said the BESS moratorium was not voted on “because there were both moratoriums we put up together. I guess we just decided to put them on for the 21st. I don’t really have an answer to that,” he said.
Town Attorney Erik Howard offered Blass another reason. “They weren’t submitted prior to the cutoff for resolutions to be submitted for this meeting,” he said.
Riverhead residents have turned out in force in support of both moratorium proposals during public hearings in October. Calverton residents have been clamoring for a moratorium on new industrial development for the past few years, as Riverhead’s now long-overdue comprehensive plan update languished and stalled. The town late last year replaced the planning consultant originally hired in 2019 to undertake the update.
The board received several letters from residents of Foxwood Village in Calverton urging the Town Board asking the board whether or not the resolutions would be voted on during the meeting and urging the board to override the planning commission’s recommendations to impose a six-month industrial moratorium.
“We have seen the board act on important matters in less than 24 hours as was the case regarding the IDA’s decision on the CAT application just 10 short days ago,” the letters state, referring to the Town Board voting to cancel the controversial land deal with the Triple Five affiliate in contract with the town to buy more than 1,600 acres of town-owned land at the Calverton Enterprise Park.
The planning commission’s decision on the industrial moratorium came over the objections of Riverhead town officials at the meeting, who argued six months would be needed to complete the town’s comprehensive plan update. The updated plan is anticipated to significantly change the town’s industrial zoning districts by reducing the bulk of future development and implementing a revamped transfer of development rights program that would help generate money to preserve farmland within the town.
Planning commission members said a moratorium is “from one perspective, the most extreme land use action that a municipality can take.” Commission Chairperson Jennifer Casey said the commission would be likely to approve a three-month extension of the moratorium if the town is doing satisfactory work with updating its zoning during the moratorium’s initial three months.
A majority of the Town Board rejected an industrial moratorium proposed by Hubbard in January. Hubbard reintroduced the industrial moratorium, as well as a moratorium on BESS, in September. It wasn’t immediately clear whether Hubbard had the support of a majority of the board, but he later announced both proposals had majority support.
Hubbard declined to comment further on the status of the moratorium resolution when contacted by a reporter.
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