After months of discussion, public input, and debate, the Riverhead town board voted unanimously on Tuesday -- Councilman John Dunleavy was absent -- to approve Wading River zoning changes that some believe will curb excess commercial development and preserve rural character in the community.
The board voted to rezone five parcels, totaling approximately 16.5 acres, on the north side of Route 25A, from rural neighborhood business zoning, or BCR, to multi-family residential professional office, or MRP.
"We've struck a good balance beween the future development of Wading River and preservation," said Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter, after the town board meeting. The MRP zoning, he said, fits in well with the area. "It's all about balance."
Walter said the vote was reached after much discussion. "This was a consensus decision," he said. "Not everyone on the town board agreed with everything, but we came to a consensus, and this is where we landed. I'm happy we moved the ball forward." The supervisor added he was "worried," before the vote, "that some board members would continue to analyze this -- and that's not what the people elected us to do."
Before the vote, community members weighed in. Sid Bail, president of the Wading River Civic Association, was not present but sent his comments with Jenn Hartnagel of the Group for the East End.
Bail said he supported the change of zone -- as well as buffering with evergreens. In addition, Bail said he hoped the board would continue to study the possibilty of rezoning on the south side of Route 25A. "We look forward to working with you on these issues," he wrote.
Dominique Mendez of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, Inc., said she and the RNPC supported the rezoning of the five parcels -- the move, she said, would impact the community less, with less potential for stores, restaurants and banks.
And, she said, any homes or offices built on land zoned MRP would be set back twice as far as stores in the BCR zone, resulting in a "dramatically smaller impact on traffic" and also "not likely to decimate our local business."
But Mendez believes there is more work to be done. Leaving over 200,000 square feet of potential for retail, she said, "could still result in horrendous traffic, a plethora of out of business signs, and the Brookhavenization of Wading River."
Tuesday's vote, Mendez said, would help "a little bit" but "it is not nearly enough to ensure Wading River doesn't evolve into some typical over-retailed Long Island town -- the type so many of us moved away from."
Mendez also advocated for the board's continuing to consider additional zoning on the south and west sides of Route 25A and not to give developers additional uses through special permits or overlay zones, something she said would leave Wading River's future in the hands of a very few property owners.
"The courageous thing would be to continue to do what is best for the community as a whole," she said.
Evergreen buffers were also on Mendez' list of priorities; she said it was "astounding" that the board could not agree to a code change to require the evergreen buffers to screen new multi-family residences from Route 25A. Walter said he thinks the board is in agreement.
Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said the code revision committee is meeting next week and would be discussing the buffers.