Former Riverhead Town Supervisor James Stark, who presided during a pivotal time in the town's development in the 1990s, has died, town officials said Wednesday.

Stark, who was Riverhead's 57th supervisor, died Wednesday morning at Peconic Bay Medical Center after battling lung cancer. He was 78.

Stark led the town in 1996 and 1997, after a five-year stint as councilman and a year as acting supervisor, when then-supervisor Joseph Janoski fell ill.

PhotosRecent notable deaths photosNotable sports deaths in 2014See alsoSee more LI, U.S. obits

At a Riverhead Town Board meeting Wednesday, a minute of silence was observed for Stark, and Supervisor Sean Walter presented Stark's family with a replica of the town seal.

As a councilman and supervisor, Stark often championed commercial and industrial development as a way to encourage tourism to the rural town and hold taxes at bay.

He was on the town board that approved the Tanger Outlets, and as supervisor was central to the development of the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center and the revitalization of the Suffolk Theater, town officials said.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Stark was also involved in early efforts to market the Enterprise Park at Calverton, or EPCAL, the 2,900-acre property where Grumman Corp. once built and tested military aircraft, which town officials are still working to develop.

He made a comeback bid for supervisor at age 70, but was defeated by incumbent Phil Cardinale in 2007.

In a statement Wednesday, Walter credited Stark with "charting the course for EPCAL" and being a "staunch fiscal conservative who was a careful steward of town finances."

@Newsday

"Riverhead will be forever grateful for Jim Stark's service and leadership," Walter said. "His love and dedication to this town will live on, but today we mourn the loss of a true public servant."

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio recalled Stark as a political mentor who spent hours on the phone counseling her. "He shared his experiences with me and gave me advice on how to deal with every situation that I questioned him about," she said.

Stark was born in Greenport and attended Riverhead schools and the La Salle Military Academy in Oakdale. He received an economics degree from Villanova University and served in the Army. He owned Storage Town East Inc. and for 18 years was the president of Farmers Exchange Co., a wholesale produce company.

Stark was an avid golfer and longtime high school basketball referee, town officials said, and was involved in several community organizations.

He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Patricia; children Catherine Stark and Mark Stark, both of Riverhead, James Stark of Dix Hills, and Joanna Beall of Honolulu, Hawaii; seven grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Visitation is Thursday and Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. at the McLaughlin-Heppner Funeral Home in Riverhead. A funeral Mass will be celebrated Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at Saint Isidore Roman Catholic Church in Riverhead.