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Walter on Town's Preservation Fund Debt: 'We Have A Huge Problem'

At environmental forum, challenger Angela DeVito calls for a moratorium on development for rural corridors.

Two candidates running for the Riverhead's supervisor's seat cut to the chase when talking about the town's greatest challenges Tuesday night.

According to incumbent Sean Walter, when discussing open space preservation, "We have a huge problem."

The town's  Community Preservation Funds — or monies gleaned from the town's two-percent real estate transfers — is currently bringing in $2.2 million per year, but the debt service on $70 million that was borrowed to purchase parcels is now approximately $5.6 million per year, Walter said.

"We have enough to get us to 2018, when there will be $600,000 left."

Walter said he has a plan but must be elected to see it through. "I need to stay," he said. 

"Unless the town's real estate transaction pick up in the next three to four years, the town's general fund is going to have to make up the balance. I'm not sure what we'd do because the general fund budget won't be able to withstand that."

Walter said short of special state legislation to help, the town would be in a crisis, but said he has spent time in Albany discussing how to fix the problem. 

One way, he suggested, might be the town's transfer of development rights program, which could be changed to allow the farmland select committee to determine the price of TDR credits, so that money could be leveraged against the county.

Another option, Walter said, could be to create an East End wide CPF fund, with all towns sharing equally in the pot, so that towns such as East Hampton and Southampton don't get such a higher percentage.

The voter education forum, held at Digger's, focused on environmental issues and was organized by the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund. 

A Riverhead environmental coalition, which organized the event and agreed on the list of key issues, included The Community Planning Center Group for the East End, the Jamesport/So. Jamesport Civic Association, the North Fork Environmental Council, the Peconic Baykeeper, Peconic Green Growth and the Sound Park Heights Civic Association.

Four issues were covered including ground and surface water quality and nitrogen loading; Dark Skies; Enterprise Park at Calverton; and open space preservation.

Challenger Angela DeVito, who spoke after Walter, received  a round of applause when she suggested calling for a short-term moratorium on development on both Route 48 and Route 25, until some thought could be put into developing the big picture approach.

DeVito also said public safety was critical, with issues such as sidewalks important — in addition to blatant displays of prostitution and drug dealing in parking lots around Main Street.

"We do have unsavory activities going on here in the middle of day," she said. "That's not a safe environment."

Walter pointed to Enterprise Park at Calverton as the accomplishment of which he was most proud.

On the subject of the sewage treatment plant upgrade, Walter said while the town was complying with the state's mandate, one idea he'd had would be to use state funding to give grants to homeowners that lived near Peconic Bay for Nitrex-type systems.

He said the fact that Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone had awarded Riverhead $8 million toward the sewer plant upgrade, "was huge," and said he'd fought for the funding.

Walter also said he'd work with Riverside and Flanders and allow the communities to tap into Riverhead's sewer system but only if Southampton agreed to allow Riverhead to extend its taxing district.

Another idea Walter had was to extend the Community River Designation, under the state's Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Permit Program, west on Main Street, to allow for development on the north side of the road and prevent waste from homes from being dumped into the Peconic River.

Both candidates agreed that maintenance of the opens space at EPCAL should be overseen by another environmental or educational organization.

DeVito said she had a background that would lend itself to environmental issues but would ask for help if needed.

"I don't believe in shooting from the hip," she said. "I don't believe in faking it. I'll say, 'I don't know,' but will find out who does, and speak with them."

DeVito said a regional approach should be taken for tackling water protection issues, with a comprehensive plan key.

A dialogue must be commenced with the agricultural community, she added, so that a solution can be found to the pesticide problems that would also allow farmers to grow marketable products "that people will want to buy," so that their income is not negatively impacted.

"I think we need a townwide program that provides incentives to use an integrated pest management program," DeVito added.

On the Dark Skies issue, DeVito said, "We have legislation that is clear. We need to take it off paper and make it practice."

Walter said the Dark Skies legislation is enforced.

DeVito added that a developer should not get a green light for a site plan until the Dark Skies legislation was adhered to. "We don’t have enough enforcement," she said.

On open space preservation, DeVito said New York State could be asked to step in and help temporarily, until the real estate market sees an upswing.

DeVito, asked about the new site of a future Costco, said, "I think the planning board, within its narrow scope and definition of what it does, has indeed failed us."

On the master plan, DeVito said it can be revisited and concluded, "We do need to embrace the master plan. It is our future. We need to understand and make that house a house everyone is comfortable in."


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