The Old Northville School House, or Riverhead Charter High School,...

The Old Northville School House, or Riverhead Charter High School, on Sound Avenue on Jan. 4. Credit: /Tom Lambui

Riverhead is ditching a key recommendation to allow charter schools on industrial land before the public comment period on the town's master plan ends after residents rallied against it, Supervisor Tim Hubbard said Thursday.

The zoning update was among the recommendations made in the 200-page comprehensive plan, which will guide future development.

Hubbard confirmed the town board plans to remove the proposal from the final proposal. The change will send charter school officials back to the drawing board as their plans for a new high school have run into obstacles.

“We decided we want to keep industrial, industrial and keep it for the tax base,” Hubbard said, adding there are other zoning districts available that would allow a charter school expansion. “They just have to keep looking.”

The zoning change, if approved by the town board, could have paved the way for the charter school to expand on vacant industrial land adjacent to its main campus on Middle Country Road in Calverton.

Charter school superintendent Raymond Ankrum said the decision was “disappointing,” but remained optimistic. “We are actively exploring all available options for expanding our facilities within the existing zoning regulations of Riverhead, our home district, under New York State law,” Ankrum wrote in an email. 

Dozens of residents spoke out against the proposal at a May 22 hearing, many toting signs that read: “Industrial zones are supposed to raise revenue, not give it away.”

Claudette Bianco, of Baiting Hollow, said the zoning change would be “diametrically opposed” to other goals in the comprehensive plan, including development that would stimulate tax revenue.

“Removing land from the tax rolls and allowing a private school to be built there would result in a double whammy for taxpayers,” Bianco said.

The charter school, which enrolls more than 900 students, opened a high school in a leased schoolhouse on Sound Avenue in Riverhead in 2022.

Earlier this year, the charter school withdrew a $4.5 million bid to buy farmland for a new high school near the existing schoolhouse, which Ankrum said can’t accommodate growing enrollment.

Farmers, neighbors and public school advocates mobilized against the plan, decrying development on farmland and impacts of the school on traffic, noise and property values.

Zoning has been another hurdle to expansion. Though publicly funded, state zoning laws treat charter schools as private schools, meaning they are not allowed in any zone as public schools are.

Greg Wallace, a Calverton resident and president of the Riverhead public school teacher’s union, has been vocal about his opposition to the charter school’s expansion and said he was pleasantly surprised by the board’s decision.

“There was no benefit to the taxpayer by gifting industrial lands to an entity that’s not going to pay taxes,” he said.

In 2022, the state Board of Regents allowed the school to expand grades 11 and 12 and increase enrollment from 850 to 1,244 students over five years. Charter schools get funding from school districts depending on how many students attend from each.

Councilwoman Joann Waski, who initially supported the zoning change, said Tuesday the public input made her rethink. 

“It was obvious that they care about the economy of Riverhead, and I think that they understand that industrial land does bring in revenue to the town,” she said.

Waski said parents should have a choice of sending their children to private and charter schools and called for the board to take another look at zoning for those institutions. “This is our chance to get the comprehensive plan right,” she said.

The master plan was last updated in 2003 and town officials are hoping to adopt the final version this summer. It calls for scaling back heavy industrial development and incentivizing farmland preservation, among other goals.

Written comments on the draft plan are being accepted through June 10.

Riverhead is ditching a key recommendation to allow charter schools on industrial land before the public comment period on the town's master plan ends after residents rallied against it, Supervisor Tim Hubbard said Thursday.

The zoning update was among the recommendations made in the 200-page comprehensive plan, which will guide future development.

Hubbard confirmed the town board plans to remove the proposal from the final proposal. The change will send charter school officials back to the drawing board as their plans for a new high school have run into obstacles.

“We decided we want to keep industrial, industrial and keep it for the tax base,” Hubbard said, adding there are other zoning districts available that would allow a charter school expansion. “They just have to keep looking.”

The zoning change, if approved by the town board, could have paved the way for the charter school to expand on vacant industrial land adjacent to its main campus on Middle Country Road in Calverton.

Charter school superintendent Raymond Ankrum said the decision was “disappointing,” but remained optimistic. “We are actively exploring all available options for expanding our facilities within the existing zoning regulations of Riverhead, our home district, under New York State law,” Ankrum wrote in an email. 

Dozens of residents spoke out against the proposal at a May 22 hearing, many toting signs that read: “Industrial zones are supposed to raise revenue, not give it away.”

Claudette Bianco, of Baiting Hollow, said the zoning change would be “diametrically opposed” to other goals in the comprehensive plan, including development that would stimulate tax revenue.

“Removing land from the tax rolls and allowing a private school to be built there would result in a double whammy for taxpayers,” Bianco said.

The charter school, which enrolls more than 900 students, opened a high school in a leased schoolhouse on Sound Avenue in Riverhead in 2022.

Earlier this year, the charter school withdrew a $4.5 million bid to buy farmland for a new high school near the existing schoolhouse, which Ankrum said can’t accommodate growing enrollment.

Farmers, neighbors and public school advocates mobilized against the plan, decrying development on farmland and impacts of the school on traffic, noise and property values.

Zoning has been another hurdle to expansion. Though publicly funded, state zoning laws treat charter schools as private schools, meaning they are not allowed in any zone as public schools are.

Greg Wallace, a Calverton resident and president of the Riverhead public school teacher’s union, has been vocal about his opposition to the charter school’s expansion and said he was pleasantly surprised by the board’s decision.

“There was no benefit to the taxpayer by gifting industrial lands to an entity that’s not going to pay taxes,” he said.

In 2022, the state Board of Regents allowed the school to expand grades 11 and 12 and increase enrollment from 850 to 1,244 students over five years. Charter schools get funding from school districts depending on how many students attend from each.

Councilwoman Joann Waski, who initially supported the zoning change, said Tuesday the public input made her rethink. 

“It was obvious that they care about the economy of Riverhead, and I think that they understand that industrial land does bring in revenue to the town,” she said.

Waski said parents should have a choice of sending their children to private and charter schools and called for the board to take another look at zoning for those institutions. “This is our chance to get the comprehensive plan right,” she said.

The master plan was last updated in 2003 and town officials are hoping to adopt the final version this summer. It calls for scaling back heavy industrial development and incentivizing farmland preservation, among other goals.

Written comments on the draft plan are being accepted through June 10.

Newsday Live and Long Island LitFest present a conversation with the former senior advisor to President Clinton and co-anchor of “Good Morning America,” George Stephanopoulos, about his new book, “The Situation Room, The Inside Story of Presidents in Crisis.” Host: NewsdayTV Anchor Jasmine Anderson

Newsday Live: A Chat with George Stephanopoulos Newsday Live and Long Island LitFest present a conversation with the former senior advisor to President Clinton and co-anchor of "Good Morning America."

Newsday Live and Long Island LitFest present a conversation with the former senior advisor to President Clinton and co-anchor of “Good Morning America,” George Stephanopoulos, about his new book, “The Situation Room, The Inside Story of Presidents in Crisis.” Host: NewsdayTV Anchor Jasmine Anderson

Newsday Live: A Chat with George Stephanopoulos Newsday Live and Long Island LitFest present a conversation with the former senior advisor to President Clinton and co-anchor of "Good Morning America."

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME