The following was read aloud at yesterday’s Work Session and is submitted here — as a Letter to the Editor — in response to your recent article (“Riverhead Town officials accepted help from developer-paid professionals on code change for Sound-front resort plan, records show,” Jan. 30) wherein you suggest a proposed code revision currently under consideration, came about improperly.

To be clear, proposals to amend the code can [be] and frequently are advanced by some combination of staff members, residents, developers or business owners. Code amendment suggestions are also sometimes brought about through the code revision committee.

In all cases, it is the job of town staff and officials to consider these ideas and proposals and determine whether they have merit and that analysis always includes evaluation for consistency with the comprehensive plan and needs of the community. Once we review them, if they are worthy of further consideration, the public will hear about them and have multiple opportunities to comment at public meetings and hearings.

Zoning changes to accommodate possible development projects are not new or unusual – case in point Tanger Outlets in 1992 and proposed updated code in 2024. The town’s Business F zoning use district was literally created to accommodate that project after the developer came to the town with a unique proposal. Given the fact that none of the town planners at the time knew how to zone what was needed for an outlet center, Tanger’s staff made significant contributions to the zoning text.
Turns out Tanger Outlets is now our town’s largest taxpayer – and those taxes are a tremendous help to our school district and residents.

In 2016, the town met with the president and countless staff members of Peconic Bay Medical Center to draft a code with accessory uses deemed necessary to accommodate the hospital use and cardiac catheterization unit. The Town Board moved this zoning forward swiftly as PBMC was racing to get NYS approval and had a short window to do so for the cardiac catheterization unit.

In 2012, the town was approached by a developer/owner of an assisted living facility seeking to locate a facility here in Riverhead. After months of evaluation by planning, legal and Town Board, the Residence RC Retirement Community was amended to permit such uses. Despite the changes to zoning, that project did not move forward.

Like Tanger, proponents of a proposal to allow agri-tourism resorts had a promising idea, and we did not ignore them. We listened and discussed – a process that took over two years. The most notable consideration from the town’s point of view was the significant potential for farmland preservation that would be generated by it. Land in the RA-80 zoning district may be developed for residential use and as it stands now, the properties under consideration for this new zoning could be developed – as of right – with housing density including condominiums or single-family homes and potentially significant impacts on our schools and services. Notably, this code requires preservation through either agricultural conservation easements or transfer of development rights to obtain yield necessary to develop the property for agri-tourism resort.

When we considered this proposal to allow agri-tourism resorts, top of mind for us is the fact the town still has 7,000 acres of farmland under serious development pressure and the existing TDR formulas do not work well enough. And since the town cannot afford the one half billion dollars it would cost to purchase those acres, we need to take every opportunity we can to leverage TDRs.

Agri-tourism resort zoning proposal does exactly that; it could preserve many acres of farmland at no cost to the taxpayers. In addition, projects would be required to preserve the scenic corridor along Sound Avenue, provide farmers with additional opportunities to market their products, highlight Riverhead’s amazing farmland and … not add a single child to the school district. It is not only consistent with the existing comprehensive plan – it is exactly the type of zoning we are recommending in the updated comprehensive plan. For all those reasons, town staff felt it was an important proposal to advance.

One of the most important things we are doing in our comprehensive plan update is figuring out how to transfer more development rights from farmland to commercial projects so that we can better leverage private dollars to buy farmland that the taxpayers cannot afford and this proposed zoning is a good example of just that. At the end of the day, we bring forward ideas we think would benefit the town. Where it goes from here? We will have to wait and see.

I want to thank all the town staff who worked on this proposed amendment; the time and effort that goes into any possible code amendment is tremendous. We thank you for your commitment and willingness to continually pursue the betterment of the Town of Riverhead.

Lastly, the staff depicted in this article is some of the hardest working staff this town has. It is a disservice not only to them, but also to the residence of this town to portray them in any other way.

Tim Hubbard is the Riverhead Town supervisor, and a former council member. He lives in Aquebogue.

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