03/01/13 2:59pm
03/01/2013 2:59 PM

YMCA OF LONG ISLAND RENDERING | The YMCA released this design of a proposed facility when it was eyeing a site in Aquebogue.

After almost 15 years of trying to build a YMCA facility in Riverhead Town or the Riverhead area and getting nowhere, Peconic YMCA co-founder Joe Van de Wetering said his board — which hasn’t made any firm decisions yet — just might end up calling it quits.

This comes after new leadership at the parent group, YMCA of Long Island, rejected a site at the Enterprise Park at Calverton that the town was willing to offer up for free.

Riverhead Town officials approved the measure last year, and had been hoping to get a lease signed by December or January.

“At some point, you’ve got to say, let’s be realistic and throw in the towel,” Mr. Van de Wetering told the News-Review, acknowledging that ending their effort is one of the options being considered.

Mr. Van de Wetering said that while he’s hopeful something can be worked out, “We’ve got some basic conflicts with the [Long Island] YMCA” group, which must be on board and approve of any Y facility built in the region.

Peconic YMCA publicly announced its plans to bring a YMCA to Riverhead in January 2000, at which time it appeared the group had a site near County Road 105 and Route 25 in Aquebogue. But those plans fell through, and the group has since looked at a number of other properties, some connected with unpopular development proposals, some in locations that met opposition from neighbors and some that the Peconic YMCA board ultimately decided against.

The Calverton proposal, while farther west then the group initially wanted, got further along than any of the others and appeared to be on the verge of being constructed after the Town Board agreed to donate 7.3 acres at EPCAL for the Peconic YMCA and had begun negotiating a deal to lease, and eventually give, the property to the YMCA in exchange for certain services spelled out in the agreement.

But in December, YMCA of Long Island’s president and CEO, Anne Brigis, who replaced longtime president and CEO Michael Famiglietti in July, notified the town that the YMCA was considering a location on Riverhead School District property rather than EPCAL.

The town then directed its outside attorneys to stop work on the EPCAL lease agreement.

“I’m very disappointed in the YMCA of Long Island,” Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said this week. “They came out here, and we spent a lot of time and energy negotiating on the Calverton site. Members of their board of directors testified at the public hearing as to what a great site it was.”

Mr. Famiglietti, who retired in July, had supported the EPCAL site.

“I’m very disappointed they are not coming to Calverton and I wish them the best of luck,” Mr. Walter said. “But I have a feeling the decisions that they are making are probably going to affect their backers.

“The Long Island Y may have actually killed a Riverhead YMCA project, and that really is unfortunate for the residents of the East End.”

The supervisor said that as far as he’s concerned, the EPCAL deal is dead and the town will probably try to sell that property, which runs along Route 25.

He said he still doesn’t know what brought about the YMCA’s “180-degree turn” on the EPCAL site.

Mr. Van der Wetering said the YMCA of Long Island is waiting for the Peconic YMCA board to decide what it wants to do, adding that YMCA of Long Island is willing to look at other sites — in addition to the school district property — which would involve starting from scratch.

As for the EPCAL site, YMCA of Long Island officials “have basically told us that it is out of the picture,” he said.

Fritz Trinklien, director of strategic planning for YMCA of Long Island, who had worked with Peconic YMCA and visited the area many times — in Town Hall, with potential donors, civic leaders or the News-Review editorial team — has been taken off the project, Mr. Van der Wetering said.

“They have a new regime that’s in charge and they want to see things done differently,” he said.

The Peconic YMCA board initially wanted a site closer to the Riverhead Zip code and felt EPCAL was too far west. But the seven-acre site was essentially being donated by the town and the Peconic YMCA board ultimately decided to go with it, Mr. Van der Wetering said, adding that it’s frustrating to see that plan fall apart again after so many years.

“We’ve been working on this for a long time,” he said. “It’s always something standing in the way. We just never expected to see this happen.”

Ms. Brigis has not returned calls seeking comment.

A call to Scott Sammis, president of the YMCA of Long Island’s board of directors, also was not returned.

Riverhead School Superintendent Nancy Carney said last week that she has not heard anything new from YMCA of Long Island officials since December.

[email protected]

04/12/12 6:00am

ORIENT

Far too ambitious

“A Bridge Too Far,” written in 1974 by Cornelius Ryan, details a courageous attempt of World War II, “Operation Market Garden,” to capture several bridges in the Low Countries.

The major tasks of the Oysterponds School this year are many. They include arriving at a budget for 2012-13 that will pass and conform to the new 2 percent cap rule.

Then there’s negotiating a new contract with the teachers to replace the one that expired and negotiating as well with two other school districts as to where the secondary school students will go next year.

The list includes establishing a $2.5 million capital fund. Lesser tasks involve creating a new pre-K program, combining the first and second grades, significantly reducing the faculty and assigning all special education services to the principal and the part-time superintendent.

What about the goal of issuing iPads to all fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students and probably conducting a separate referendum for additional transportation costs connected to the secondary school contracts?

Attempting all of this is more than any school board could expect to accomplish in one year. It becomes even more problematic since the principal is new; the superintendent, though very hard working, seems overwhelmed; and the district clerk is very inexperienced.

Though there must be important reasons, two of the major tasks have been allowed to drag on and on and on. Though the board president has all the attributes for excellent educational leadership, something is lacking. Also, some board members are clearly not participating as much as circumstances warrant.

Whatever one thinks about it, the school’s very ambitious program requires a conscientious effort from all parties.

Overall, this program is an act of overreaching, much as was Operation Market Garden in World War II — and it, too, will probably fail.

The task of negotiating with the other districts is an act of extreme overconfidence, especially since it clearly defies the wishes of the residents and taxpayers. However, the people have no one to blame but themselves. It has been obvious for a long time that we need more competition in our choice of responsive and qualified candidates for school board membership.

Walter Strohmeyer

former president, Oysterponds school board

GREENPORT

Library owes Tula

I want to share some more information about our unfortunate break-in last week.

The alarm was raised by the little Mexican puppy, Tula, that Gillian Wood-Pultz brought back from her last “vacation” there. Gillian and her husband, Dave, live across the street from the library.

Tula is a valiant pup. She sleeps on the bed with Gillian and Dave and started to growl and bark. Gillian tried to reassure her that nothing was wrong, but she insisted and jumped off the bed — a long jump for a little pup — ran to the window and growled and barked some more, finally getting Gillian up in time to see the window being broken.

Gillian called the police, who came in just two minutes. Bravo, Southold Town Police Sgt. Latham and officers Grattan, Buonaiuto and Flatley. Bravo, Tula.

Gillian brought Tula by in her rainbow sweater to be praised for her defense of the library. What a great little dog.

Lisa Richland

director, Floyd Memorial Library

LAUREL

A great asset

I can certainly understand the concerns for not wanting another YMCA, farm stand or whatever in Aquebogue adding to traffic woes and possibly affecting property values.

The traffic issue might be addressed when/if plans for the YMCA building are presented.

Property values are another question. We’ve lived in Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Washington and we joined the Y in each place. There have been educational, entertainment and exercise programs at each facility and the local residents have been enthusiastic supporters of each Y.

The proposed YMCA in Aquebogue would serve people on the whole East End — both North and South forks — and would be a great addition to the community.

Bernadette Mahoney

03/24/12 10:00am
03/24/2012 10:00 AM

For those just catching up on the latest YMCA proposal and subsequent debate, here’s a crash course: the Peconic YMCA group is trying to purchase nine acres across from Vineyard Caterers on Main Road in Aquebogue, where it wants to build its long-dreamed-of Y facility. No official plans have been filed with the town as of yet. In fact, the YMCA does not yet even own the property. But some in Aquebogue and neighboring Jamesport are in an uproar and have launched a “Save Main Road” campaign similar to the “Save Wading River” movement on the other side of Riverhead Town. Both campaigns are designed to block what some locals and environmentalists consider inappropriate development projects proposed for their respective hamlets.

In the last few weeks I’ve noticed a lot of misinformation flying about from those for a YMCA and those against such a facility at this location. To help readers see through some of the smoke, I wanted to give each side a chance to answer some key questions that have arisen during the last few weeks, in a manner that doesn’t have to go through a reporter’s or editor’s filter on what to keep and what to cut.

I used this newspaper’s editorial coverage, reader comments posted on riverheadnewsreview.com and Facebook, and my own dealings with Peconic YMCA over the years to come up with the questions. I hope this helps in understanding the issues at hand.

Georgette Keller, Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association, president

Q: What do you think is the chief concern among those against this location for a Y?

A: Although we are all in support of a YMCA, the people of Save Main Road oppose this particular location. Ten years ago, the master plan severely restricted development on this stretch of the rural corridor to avoid the issues this project brings with it of traffic and the character of this area. Yes, there is a catering hall across the street but that’s why it’s even more important that this largely residential area doesn’t get further compromised by commercial-type development and huge structures. The Town Board recognized it then and planned for limited development because of it. We can’t just keep making exceptions left and right when anyone proposes a project and expect Riverhead to preserve its North Fork character and culture.

Q: Many at the ‘Save Main Road’ meeting spoke of keeping the land as ‘virgin forest.’ Is this really plausible?

A: Of course. That’s what we have the Peconic Bay Transfer Tax for, as well as many other nonprofit and community organizations on the East End, such as Peconic Land Trust, North Fork Environmental Council, and even the movement of Save What’s Left. The purpose of the RB-80 zoning is to preserve agricultural soils and to allow limited residential development. A virgin forest is certainly more in line with the goals of the zone than a 40,000 square-foot building would be, and if the Y doesn’t get built here then there’s still a chance that can happen.

Q: Where do you think a Y should be built?

A: I personally feel that the location adjacent to Stotzky Park is ideal. It provides an opportunity for future growth of the YMCA and the greatest access to all people, especially those that need the support of the YMCA’s services. The social issues in Riverhead will never be addressed if we do not build a better system of engaging our children as they grow. And teens need to be able to access the Y on their own. Can you really imagine teens on bikes on Main Road trying to get there independently? Besides, a downtown YMCA could help transform downtown Riverhead and revitalize the retail there, just as it did in Bay Shore. The YMCA’s Fritz Trinklein made a statement to that effect in the News-Review in 2009 and I definitely agree with him on that.

Q: Why do you think there’s more uproar over this Y than the Village at Jamesport, a proposed Main Road shopping center that will also need special permits from the Town Board?

A: There isn’t. There is significant opposition to both projects but the hearings and most of the activity on the Village at Jamesport project happened years ago and so it’s not fresh in everyone’s minds like this is. This proposed location for a YMCA is clearly inappropriate and does not conform to what’s allowed in RB-80 and so it is receiving quick opposition.

This is clearly another one of attorney Pete Danowski’s many attempts to subvert our Master Plan and zoning on behalf of one of his clients by playing semantics. He recently successfully petitioned the town to defy logic and say that wine tasting was a customary accessory to a craft store so that a new business on Main Road in Aquebogue can serve wine, and I think people are getting tired of it.

On the other hand, though the opposition to the Village at Jamesport has been going on for at least eight years, it’s not as clear-cut an issue. Village at Jamesport is looking for a special permit for uses that are actually allowed in the Rural Corridor Zoning, and opposition is based on the fact that this parcel has a different building allowance than what rural corridor allows for.

Q: Is there anything the Y can do to work with local residents who oppose this location for the project to get a facility built there?

A: No. The zoning does not support the use. Period.  A special permit cannot be based on accessory uses. YMCAs are primarily recreational sports facilities, and this one may have educational pre-K classes as an accessory use but that doesn’t actually qualify it for a special permit. In fact, the Y offers many programs that are not allowable in RB-80 zoning, which would disqualify it for a special permit.  Additionally, the zoning on the parcel does not support any possible future expansion for outdoor sports/an aquatic center as the Y claims it wants to do. The initial building phase (the indoor pool and facility) would use up all the lot coverage the Y allowed. This location makes no sense for the community or the YMCA, long term.

Fritz Trinklein, YMCA of Long Island, Inc., director of strategic planning

Q: One of the biggest criticisms of the YMCA is that it has never considered the heart of downtown as a possible location. Why the need for open space and camp facilities when we live in one of the most rural, open regions of Long Island? You can’t say kids around here don’t have room to run.

A: A YMCA needs outdoor space for its full compliment of programming. Summer day camp programs are key. The popular “Silver Sneakers” program for seniors (often funded by health insurance) and the “couch potato to 5K” program are examples of outside activities in a pleasant environment.

Introductory outdoor classes for youth, including soccer, golf, T-ball, volleyball and field hockey, are simplest when administered “on-site.” Personal training classes also use outdoor space for sprinting or longer distance running.

Eight acres is required to establish an optimal YMCA location. This makes a downtown location all but impossible, particularly within the Y’s $500,000 acquisition budget.

Traffic, proximity, and accessibility to the membership are other key factors for a successful YMCA. Ninety-nine percent of all participants need to be transported to the Y, regardless of where it is located. Of the approximate 40,000-person local population pool, a small segment drives through downtown on a regular basis (unlike Main Road). If a Y is located downtown, it would add new traffic to an already difficult-to-navigate area. Y members generally tend to travel up to 15-20 minutes to participate in programs. By the time a driver squirrels through downtown, many minutes are consumed driving a very short distance.

Furthermore, Y studies show less than 5 percent of YMCA members of a branch located in Riverhead would come from the downtown area, regardless of where it is located. The Y needs to be accessible to as many people as possible.

The number one expressed need by 80 percent of the entire population is an indoor swimming pool. And the remaining 20 percent virtually all agree a Y is needed. One population does not need a Y more than another.

Everyone will improve their sense of wellness by participating. Young, old; rich, poor; white, black; those in good health and those who have health struggles. Everyone.

Q: Do you have any idea about the potential traffic impacts on Main Road if the facility were to be built in Aquebogue?

A: Town Hall has recent hourly traffic studies for Main Road. The YMCA knows branch traffic. Most participants coming to a branch on Main Road would combine it with other errands, thereby not adding to traffic. Once full membership has been reached in 3 to 5 years, the Y’s preliminary analysis shows an average traffic effect of 2 to 3 percent.

Q: Opponents of the proposed location have floated other sites the Y might want to consider, namely the former North Fork/Capital One headquarters in Mattituck. Has the Y considered that property? What did it find?

A: Many sites have been suggested over the past decade. Each location introduces specific elements that have to be evaluated. Demographics play a large roll. A branch located east of Laurel would not have sufficient membership to achieve a balanced budget, which is the goal of all YMCAs on Long Island. Additionally, the priorities of those who have provided volunteer leadership and donor support need to be incorporated into the decision-making process.

The Peconic YMCA committee, which has been working tirelessly for over 15 years, has specified that the branch be located in the Town of Riverhead, accessible to all residents in the town.

Q: If this doesn’t happen in Aquebogue, does Peconic YMCA keep trying? Or does it pack its bags. I can’t imagine it has much left in its tank, frankly.

A: The Peconic YMCA committee, led by Joe Van de Wetering, has shown an incredible commitment to benefit town residents. Over these many years, each proposed location has created a reaction by a small group of local people who, although they universally agree with the benefits a YMCA would provide the community, have unfounded fears of the impact a YMCA would have on their specific neighborhood. The YMCA of Long Island has built a reputation of being good and friendly neighbors at all of its branch locations. For example, property values adjacent to a Y normally increase due to the existence of a Y.

Instead of giving up, Joe and the Peconic YMCA committee have taken extra measures to ensure the suitability of a potential location, by initially garnering the unanimous endorsement of the Town Board, the town planning department and the town attorney before pursuing it.  Although some Town Board members vacillate and change their minds, the town supervisor and other consistent board members have shown strong leadership in standing by their word and endorsement.

Joe is supported by very publicly-minded, philanthropic individuals, who want to help the town become a healthier, happier place to live.  In addition to the Van de Wetering family, the Entenmanns, Millers, and Goodales have committed leadership pledges of six figures or more to see this project succeed. We are motivated by the steadfastness of their support.

How long will this benevolence last? Even the most gracious people have their limits.

Michael White is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at (631) 298-3200, ext. 152 or [email protected]

03/10/12 5:36pm
03/10/2012 5:36 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO

No one doubts that a YMCA would benefit the North Fork, but none present at the Jamesport Meeting House Saturday morning supports building a 40,000-square-foot recreational facility on the 8.8 wooded acres across from Vineyard Caterers in Aquebogue.

More than 50 residents, as well as Riverhead Town Board members Jodi Giglio and George Gabrielsen, gathered for the special meeting held by the Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association to discuss the prospect.

“It seems out of character with the community. I don’t like it, but I want to find out more,” Aquebogue resident Michael Cotula, who lives on Colonial Lane, directly west of the proposed site, said prior to the meeting. Others echoed that sentiment.

“I’m not opposed to the YMCA” said, Perry Conklin, a  Main Road, Aquebogue resident for 76 years. He added the site includes a dangerous curve in Main Road road that would invite accidents.

On another note, he said,  “That’s the only piece of woods between here and Southold. What do you want to do, destroy it?”

“In my opinion, it should clearly be located centrally in Riverhead so those who need it most can get there,” said Georgette Keller, president of the Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association. Ms. Keller, who has worked at YMCAs, said she thinks everyone supports the idea of a Riverhead Y, but the location would make it very difficult for needy families in Riverhead to get to.

Aquebogue resident Tim McElroy, who also lives on Colonial Lane, said it appears the location was chosen to appeal to those in Southold more than Riverhead residents. “That’s how it seems to me,” he said.

Many raised questions about whether the building would be a traditional YMCA, with a mission focused on strengthening a community and all of its members, or more of a country club, with high cost monthly and yearly fees that only more wealthy residents can afford.

Because of the area’s zoning, a special permit is needed from the town declaring the structure an educational, not recreational, facility.