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Riverhead board divided over land acquisition for park

Suffolk County is considering buying land along the Peconic River, but town officials are worried about potential costs for upkeep and maintenance.

A Riverhead Town resident has proposed selling this

A Riverhead Town resident has proposed selling this property on West Main Street to Suffolk County. Photo Credit: James Carbone

The Riverhead Town Board is divided over whether to support county acquisition of property on West Main Street along the Peconic River for possible use as a park.

Suffolk County Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said the county was approached in June by Larry Simms, a town resident who owns a combined 16 acres of property near the river, about possibly selling the land to the county.

“We could only improve on the natural habitat there,” Krupski said. Because of the nature of the property, which was formerly a duck farm, acquiring it for open space use would provide residents with future access to the river, and it would be easy to find trails that would allow for it to be converted into a hamlet park, he said.

Several environmental groups have written letters supporting acquiring the property, including the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, Eastern Long Island Audubon Society and the Peconic Estuary Program. The benefits the groups listed include the creation of a buffer zone along the river to reduce erosion along its banks, security of coastal waters, tidal salt marsh restoration and the removal of invasive species.

“It’s a beautiful piece of land, and it would allow us to preserve land right on the Peconic River,” Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said. “It’s a significant parcel within the town.”

However, Town Councilman James Wooten at the board’s Dec. 20 work session said he was concerned about potential upkeep and maintenance costs. Deputy Supervisor Tim Hubbard had similar concerns.

“We are all in favor of preserving property, but it’s about how much commitment" will be sought from the town, Hubbard said.

If the property is turned into a hamlet park, there would have to be a partnership between Suffolk County and Riverhead, Krupski said. Costs for maintenance of the park would depend on what Riverhead would want to spend, he said.

While the county does not require the town’s permission to acquire the property, Krupski said it has been commonplace for the county and towns to partner on such proposals, and it would be preferable to have Riverhead’s support.

Jens-Smith said the board will review a concept plan for the property at a later time, and the county will probably decide afterward whether it wants to go out for a property appraisal. However, Jens-Smith said the entire process for the county to acquire the property could be lengthy. “It can take up to a couple of years,” Jens-Smith said. “This is just the initial conversation.”

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