An increasing number of proposed warehouses in Calverton has led to renewed calls for a moratorium on industrial development as Riverhead Town continues updating its comprehensive plan.
Riverhead planners and Councilman Tim Hubbard are urging the town board to consider the pause on industrial projects to buy time to implement recommendations that include revamping the town’s transfer of development rights program.
“It’s a smart thing for us to take our foot off the accelerator and pump the brakes a little bit,” Hubbard said at a meeting on Sept. 14.
The program allows developers to buy the rights to properties eyed for preservation as a credit to allow them to build in areas deemed appropriate by the town. One suggestion in the preliminary plan is to allow developers to use those credits to bypass restrictions on the size of some industrial projects.
Funds from the purchase of development rights could then be used to preserve farmland, another key town priority.
Dawn Thomas, the town’s Community Development administrator also overseeing the updates to the comprehensive plan, said the program could ease the burden on taxpayers.
“Preservation is important, but there’s a cost to that,” she said in an interview, estimating it could cost more than $400 million to preserve roughly 7,000 acres of open space on a priority list. “If we can make the program work well, then we’re allowing commercial development to pay for the things taxpayers want.”
Other recommendations include limiting industrial uses to be less intensive and reducing visual impacts through increased setbacks.
Residents, worried about the effect of large warehouses, have been calling for a moratorium for more than a year. There are several pending industrial projects in Calverton, including a 641,000-square-foot logistics center on Middle Road.
Greater Calverton Civic Association member Meredith Ritter said intense development in Calverton could impact traffic across the East End. She said the preliminary zoning changes unveiled are “very solid suggestions” worth considering. “We just feel it’s time for [the town board] to do something brave,” Ritter, 77, said. “Something that will help Riverhead.”
At the meeting, Hubbard also proposed a moratorium on battery energy storage systems, which have prompted concerns over lithium-ion battery fires.
In April, Riverhead approved legislation allowing the facilities in certain zoning districts. Moratoriums are currently in place in Southold, Southampton and are being considered in Huntington.
It’s not clear if either proposal has support from the rest of the five-member board, which would be needed to set public hearings.
“We do not need to be known as the land of moratoriums,” Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said at the meeting, describing the measures as “invasive.”
Planners from the Manhattan-based consulting firm BFJ are currently updating the comprehensive plan, which will outline future development in Riverhead.
“This is guiding us for the next 20 years,” Hubbard said. “If we do not get it right now, we’re just opening up a road full of mistakes coming at us in the future.”
A draft of the plan is expected to be completed by early spring.
In January, a similar measure to schedule a hearing on a development moratorium was rejected by a 3-2 vote.
The next town board meeting is scheduled for Oct. 3.
Riverhead comprehensive plan
- The plan will serve as a blueprint for future development. Riverhead last updated the plan in 2003.
- Farmland preservation, downtown revitalization, economic development and alleviating seasonal traffic are goals outlined in the plan.
- The consultants, BFJ Planning, will hold a public workshop on the plan on Nov. 15. No time or venue has been announced yet. More information can be found at townofriverheadcomprehensiveplanupdate.com.