Supervisor Yvette Aguiar delivering her 2023 State of the Town speech on Dec. 4, 2023. Photo: Alek Lewis

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar highlighted the accomplishments of Riverhead Town’s government over the last four years during her swan song ‘state of the town’ speech on Monday.

Titled “The Foundation has Been Laid for Riverhead’s Future,” it is the last speech of its kind she will give before leaving office Dec. 31. Aguiar announced in February that she would not seek reelection after completing two two-year terms. In November, Council Member Tim Hubbard, the Republican supervisor nominee, won the seat by defeating Angela De Vito of Jamesport with more than 59% of the vote.

“I am extremely proud of all we have accomplished over the last four years, we have received various Smart Growth awards, millions of dollars in monetary grant funding and recognitions from every level of government informing us of our ability to grow responsibly while protecting our environment,” Aguiar said. “We also need to ensure we protect the town’s assets; our farms, our vineyards, our retail establishments and businesses, and of course, and primarily, our residents’ quality of life.”

Aguiar thanked the other members of the current Town Board, as well as County Legislator Al Krupski, Assembly Member Jodi Giglio and Council Member-elect Joann Waski, who were all in attendance.

“In support of President Ronald Reagan, who said, ‘By working together, pooling our resources and building on our strengths, we can accomplish great things.’ It is exactly what we strived for under my administration,” Aguiar said. “Even the COVID-19 pandemic did not derail the direction of our operations, along with our partners in Washington D.C., in Albany, and in Suffolk County.”

Aguiar talked of the town’s efforts to revitalize the downtown area. In 2021 the town purchased three buildings on East Main Street and razed two of them for the new town square, which she said “began our gentrification process.” 

The town square will include a playground accessible to children with disabilities and an amphitheater. She highlighted the grant funding the town has received throughout the last four years, crediting the town’s Community Development department and its director, Dawn Thomas. The grants include $10 million from the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative, funding for public water extensions for residents in Manorville, and $2 million for a parking garage downtown. 

She also highlighted the Town Board’s selection of master developers for the town square and a transit oriented development project near the Riverhead railroad station. “They are Joseph Petrocelli for the downtown area and G2D for the transit development area near our train station,” she said, incorrectly identifying the master developer of the TOD project. The Town Board named Georgica Green Ventures (GGV) and RXR Realty joint master developers in October 2022. G2D, a separate developer, was the first to develop a five-story building in the area using an overlay district established in 2021.

Aguiar also discussed the deal to sell 1,644 acres of land at the Calverton Enterprise Park to Calverton Aviation and Technology for $40 million. 

“I have always tried to be responsive to the needs and concerns of Riverhead residents and businesses,” she said. “There were widespread, growing concerns about the fiscal wherewithal of Calverton technologies to carry out the project proposed contracted December 2018 project. As a result, in March ‘22, the Town Board sought review for the Riverhead IDA to determine if CAT was in fact capable of fulfilling their obligations.”

Riverhead Town officials said at the time that the transfer of EPCAL was in an effort to complete the sale of the property, after the town could not complete a required subdivision of the property due to regulatory issues. The public came out against CAT’s development plans at EPCAL, which proposed an air cargo logistics hub at the site. The Riverhead IDA rejected CAT’s application and the Town Board canceled its contract with the entity, a Triple Five affiliated company, on Oct. 24. 

Calverton Aviation and Technology said last week it has reached out to Riverhead officials in an effort to move forward with the purchase of vacant industrial land at EPCAL, despite the Town Board’s decision. The company has also threatened litigation against the town. 

“The IDA’s determination enables the [Riverhead Community Development Agency] to move forward with the next steps towards redeveloping in a manner benefiting the community, creating jobs while protecting the environment and quality of life of our residents,” Aguiar said. “I am confident the next administration will be able to find solutions that are beneficial to the residents, including STEM learning and employment opportunities in our region.”

The relocation of Town Hall to the former Peconic Bay Medical Center’s Entenmann Campus — formerly the Suffolk County National Bank property — on West Second Street was also a big accomplishment, Aguiar said. “The location is a perfect synergy to our downtown revitalization efforts,” she said. She thanked Council Member Bob Kern, Purchasing Agent Teresa Baldinucci, and the town’s Building and Grounds Department for a “seamless transition” to the new offices.

The new Town Hall, she said, also allowed the town’s IT department to implement better computer network infrastructure to improve security against cyber attacks.

The move also opens up the building on 200 Howell Avenue to be the new Judge Allen M. Smith Justice Court, she said. The building was dedicated to the late town justice on Oct. 24. Plans to renovate the building are in progress, town officials have said.

Aguiar also highlighted businesses that have opened up during her tenure, particularly Scott’s Pointe in Calverton. The project, formally known as Island Water Park, features a 22-acre lake with a floating aqua park, an indoor surf pool, a restaurant, rock climbing walls and other activities, she said. The supervisor has compared the project to Disney theme parks.

“Just last week, adjacent to Scott’s Pointe and thanks to the dedicated efforts of Councilman Kenneth Rothwell, the new $2.3 million town hockey rink was opened at Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton,” she said, highlighting the town’s partnership with Peconic Hockey Rink, which donated and is managing the rink for the town.

Aguiar said the town will soon undertake a feasibility study for a sports complex at EPCAL using a $30,000 New York State grant. Aguiar incorrectly stated during her speech that the grant was $30 million. 

She also mentioned the effort to transform the former state armory on Route 58 to a YMCA. “Plans are on the way to raise funds to retrofit the location,” she said.

Aguiar boasted about the fiscal management of the town under her tenure, mentioning that Moody’s Investors Service upgraded the town’s bond rating from Aa3 to Aa2 in 2021. “The 2022 budget was the first budget adopted by the Town Board in more than 20 years where property taxes were not raised,” Aguiar said. “In fact, the Town Board’s sound fiscal planning resulted in a reduction of taxes in two particular districts. Unfortunately, strong inflationary pressures resulted in a reasonable overall tax rate for the years 2023 and 2024,” she said. The tax levy increased 4.51% this year and will increase 4.86% in 2024. 

Aguiar also highlighted the increase in the town’s police force during her tenure. 

“As a retired law enforcement officer, public safety has always been one of my top priorities,” she said. In 2021, we replenished the ranks by hiring 19 police officers, reduced mostly due to attrition,” she said, apparently referring to the large number of retirements over the last few years. “Furthermore, in 2023, we increased the staffing level by seven police officers. By this coming summer, and additional five police officers will be added to the police force. This is the first time in Riverhead history the police force has been strengthened at this level.”

She said the town also settled contracts this year with its employee unions: CSEA, Riverhead Police Benevolent Association and Riverhead Superior Officers Association. While the CSEA and PBA contracts have been approved by the Town Board, no final agreement has been reached with the Superior Officers Association, which represents the high-ranking members of the department, according to Town Attorney Erik Howard.

“It is important to note our successes were the result of teamwork with our Town employees, along with every level of government, who made so much happen under my leadership,” Aguiar said. “I am certain I am leaving Riverhead in a significantly enhanced state than when I took office just four years ago. Unequivocally, Riverhead is clearly on the right path.”

Other accomplishments highlighted during the supervisor’s speech include the restoration of a broken observatory at Riverhead High School, the upcoming completion of the town’s comprehensive plan update; the acquisition of $350,000 in grant money for new Meals on Wheels vehicles; her executive order aimed at preventing asylum-seekers and migrants from relocating to motels and shelters in Riverhead; and the town being recognized as a destination place by Forbes magazine as one of the top 50 travel destinations for 2023.

“Diligent teamwork and planning efforts have brought Riverhead to finally seeing its long-standing dreams and realization of economic development success and prosperity throughout our town,” Aguiar said. “I am excited about the prospects of Riverhead’s future, and I believe I have strongly positioned Riverhead to achieve our mutual community of balanced goals. Our residents deserve nothing less.” 

“To ensure this I pledge to continue to work closely with supervisor-elect Hubbard to ensure a smooth transition and to be available whenever my advice or counsel is needed or desired when their future is bright and full of promise,” Aguiar said. “Thank you for the privilege of serving you as your supervisor. Happy Holidays to all. God bless Riverhead and God bless America.”

In an interview after her speech, Aguiar said she has no future political aspirations. “But I do have aspirations to work with the public, whether it’s in Washington or in Albany, and advocate,” she said. “But as far as political running for office, I’ve been there, done that, did a lot and now it’s time to move in a different direction.”

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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