Riverhead Town officials are discussing a zoning proposal that would make significant changes to an existing town program by increasing farmland preservation through more development along Route 58.

At a work session last week, the Riverhead Town Board reviewed a nine-resolution proposal suggesting several zoning amendments to the Town Development Rights program. Later, the board asked the plan’s backers to submit a request for proposal, or RFP, to move forward with some of the proposed changes. The RFP would allow the town to advertise for an outside firm to undertake an environmental review of the proposed zoning changes if the board wants to proceed with the program changes.

Town development rights can be used to increase community development or boost home development in residential areas.

The goal of the proposed changes is to transfer development from farmland in the town to areas that are “more appropriate” for development, such as along Route 58, also known as Old Country Road, according to Richard Wines, co-chairman of the Town Development Rights subcommittee.

“We’re trying to enhance that program, so that more farmland can be protected,” Wines said.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said Friday that about 20 percent of what was proposed could go forward without requiring an environmental-impact statement, while 30 percent would likely not go forward. The other 50 percent of the plan, Walter said, was “a very expensive proposition” that could proceed with board support, but would require up to $100,000 in additional funding for environmental impact statements and other related items. The town does not have that money set aside for this year.

However, Walter added that allowing for more residential use along the Route 58 corridor is necessary to repurpose big-box stores for other uses such as assisted living residences, which one developer recently inquired about.

“Many box stores you see around the country are struggling,” Walter said. “While the era of box stores isn’t completely dead, as you do online shopping, box stores suffer. We have to get in front of that curve. Otherwise, you’re left with cavernous empty stores that are not good for anything.”

Wines said the subcommittee should be able to move on the next phase with the central part of its proposals intact.

“All of the core things we were proposing are still in there, and the board seems to be strong supporters of this,” said Wines, adding that a revised proposal would eliminate things the board is concerned about. “The subcommittee was created by the board for this purpose, so we’re not going against their wishes. On the contrary, we’re going with them.”

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