Supervisor Tim Hubbard speaking to an overflow crowd in Town Hall during the town's inauguration ceremonies Jan. 1, 2024 promised government with '“a level of transparency… that has not been seen before.” Photo: Denise Civiletti

In a recent opinion piece, the new supervisor responded to reporting by RiverheadLOCAL and gave an explanation for the two years in which, unbeknownst to the people of Riverhead, the Town Board, Planning Department, and town attorneys were secretly working with a developer, Alfred Weissman Real Estate, and consultants paid for by that developer, to write a new zoning code called Agri-tourism. It allows luxury resorts north of Sound Avenue.

I am sorry, Mr. Hubbard, your opinion piece does nothing to ameliorate the sense of betrayal permeating public sentiment as a result of this clandestine activity by town government.

Supervisor Hubbard tells us that proposals to amend the code are frequently advanced by some combination of staff, residents, developers or business owners.  That may very well be true.  But the problem is that such ideas should be made known to the public — not worked on behind closed doors.  And with this Agri-tourism zoning change, the idea came from a developer with a specific project in mind—a luxury resort on the Long Island Sound.   

Under Town Code section 301-305, when a developer has a project in mind, before submitting a site plan, the developer may meet with the Planning Department to determine among other things, zoning code compliance.  Section 301-305 goes on to say such meetings shall be open to the public. 

Yet, on the Weissman resort project, the public heard absolutely nothing. The project was never revealed nor were any meetings ever announced.  Instead, according to emails provided to RiverheadLOCAL in response to a Freedom of Information Law request, the developer paid for consultants to assist town staff, and for two years, working together:  a site plan for this Weissman luxury resort was reviewed; the new Agri-tourism zoning code allowing this project was drafted; other parcels along Sound Avenue were identified for additional projects;  the TDR approach was worked out; and the required SEQRA work was apparently done. The public knew nothing whatsoever about any of this as all meetings were held in secret. Clearly section 301-305 of the Town Code was violated. 

To add insult to injury, all this was happening at the very same time the town has been paying consultants hundreds of thousands of dollars to work on an update to the comprehensive plan.  With this Agri-tourism code change, we are talking about a change that allows a new commercial use in a residential zone that not only affects the historic Sound Avenue corridor but also the town’s TDR program—all matters that are front and center subjects of the comp plan update. How can it be possible this was never discussed in connection with that update?  Failure to do so was just plain wrong and indefensible.

Yet, in his column, Mr. Hubbard tries to defend it — make it seem like business as usual. Sure he has promised us open government. Words, words, words. A month into his new job, we learn he is okay with some secret meetings — let’s start with those with millionaire Westchester developers. Seems to me, if he really wanted to make the government more transparent, he would blame this debacle on his predecessor, fall on his sword admitting such clandestine planning was wrong, and put a halt to it.  He could withdraw the proposed zoning change and ask that this idea be made a part of BFJ’s work on the comp plan update.  Yes, it might cost a bit more money but it would prove his commitment to open government.

The comp plan update work is supposed to gather information from the people of this town about what they want for the future of this town.  This dramatic change to the zoning code on Agri-tourism deserves to be a part of that update work. It should not have been accomplished behind closed doors separate and apart from the update.

We will be told and assured that our input will be heard at the upcoming public hearing on this new code, but experience has taught us that making comments at public hearings is like spitting in the wind.  The die has already been cast. And in this case, it was paid for in part by the developer seeking this change.  One can’t help but ask what was really going on here.  Who benefitted from this separate, concealed consideration of luxury resorts on the Sound?  It certainly was not the people of Riverhead.

Kathleen McGraw is a resident of Northville.

Editor’s note: RiverheadLOCAL welcomes guest columns from anyone who wants to submit a viewpoint on any topic. The opinions expressed in guest columns are those of the author and do not reflect the point of view of RiverheadLOCAL’s publishers. Please be sure to include your email address and daytime phone number with your submission.  Submit your opinion here.

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