A watchdog civic group forming in Riverhead is shifting gears from focusing primarily on parking issues to addressing a broader range of public policy and opposing a 116-unit loft project planned for downtown.
The Riverhead Business and Citizens for Sustainable Development will comprise 15 to 20 residents and business owners with backgrounds in architecture, social work and the law. Members announced at the end of August that they were forming the group and would focus on analyzing, critiquing and offering public policy positions regarding appropriate growth and development in Riverhead.
The group’s initial goal of focusing solely on parking concerns changed as members delved deeper into the issue, said Ian Lyons, the group’s interim president.
“The more we looked at this stuff, we became really, really concerned about the direction the town is going with public policy,” said Lyons, of Riverhead. “We became about oversight, transparency, sustainability and ethics.”
One issue the group is firmly opposing is the development of the 116-unit Riverview Lofts complex in downtown Riverhead. The group outlined its concerns in an Aug. 10 letter to the town board, asking them to reject the proposed complex due to concerns about its potential impact on downtown parking, the local environment and the Riverhead school district. The group also questioned why the project developer, Jericho-based Georgica Green Ventures, was seeking tax abatements of up to 30 years from the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency.
“We’re not anti-development, we’re just pro-sustainable, and this is not sustainable,” Lyons said.
David Gallo, president of Georgica Green Ventures, said he did not know about the group or its goals.
The Riverhead Town Board voted 3-1 at its Sept. 6 regular meeting to approve the complex’s final site plan application, with Councilman Tim Hubbard voting against the project. Councilwoman Jodi Giglio abstained on the advice of the town’s Ethics Committee due to a potential conflict of interest, as she is co-owner of the Summerwind Square apartment complex that is downtown.
Lyons said Riverhead Business and Citizens for Sustainable Development is choosing its officers, seeking new members to serve on internal committees and that meetings are expected to start soon afterward.
Lyons said he hopes his group will help “refocus a civic-mindedness” among Riverhead residents and stimulate more public activity in town affairs.
“I believe in [former U.S. House Speaker] Tip O’Neill’s statement that ‘All politics is local,’ ” Lyons said. “We want to enlighten the community to become more active in the formation and reaction to public policy.”
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said Friday that while he was not familiar with the group and disagreed with its arguments regarding the ethics, environmental and school district impacts of the complex, he welcomed its members to discuss any issues they have going forward.
“It’s a free town hall, they’re welcome to come in on different things,” Walter said.
NEW CIVIC WATCHDOG GROUP
The Riverhead Business and Citizens for Sustainable Development civic group will meet monthly and plans to address a broad range of public policy. It also seeks to:
- Boost political participation on the local level by assisting in organizing voter registration efforts, providing information to the public on development and local initiatives, coordinating community groups’ efforts and involving the local interfaith community;
- Actively promote and endorse political candidates who reflect shared values, goals and ethics, independent of party affiliation.