Riverhead: No shooting or ATV’s at North Fork Preserve

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Suffolk County envisions turning the North Fork Preserve in Northville into Suffolk's last great county park.

A Riverhead Town Board majority supports Suffolk County’s plan to turn the 307-acre North Fork Preserve into a major park and campground, so long as the plan doesn’t include trap and skeet shooting or an all-terrain vehicles component.

The board plans to vote on a resolution support the county plan on Tuesday.

In a work session in Town Hall Thursday, where county officials discussed the plans with the Town Board, only Councilwoman Jodi Giglio was non-committal about supporting the plans afterward.

“I want to support it, but I want to make sure we’re made whole on the loss of tax revenue,” Ms. Giglio said. She also expressed concerns about the traffic impact of a countywide park at that site.

The county has yet to officially close on the acquisition of the approximately 307-acre site — which has been used for decades for a hunting club — but is in contract with the owners of the two parcels that comprise the property, according to Pamela Greene, the county’s director of real estate. R

Riverhead Town also would contribute up to $500,000 toward the acquisition cost under the deal. The North Fork Preserve property stretches from Sound Shore Road in the north to Sound Avenue to the south in Northville.

Ms. Greene was joined by Nick Gibbons of the county parks department in discussing the park plans with the Town Board Thursday.

The plan shows a 127-acre parcel on the north part of the property that will be used for mostly passive recreation, such as hiking or bird watching, and a 174-acre parcel on the southern part of the land that will be used for active recreation. There’s also a 40-acre parcel that will be used for drainage.

Among the activities proposed for the active recreation area are a tent camping area, a 75-unit recreational vehicle camping area, 18 year-round cabins that can be rented for up to two weeks at a time, horseback riding areas, tennis courts, basketball courts, volleyball courts, kayaking and paddling areas, and trails, according to the plans.

The idea of a trap and skeet shooting range is not in the county’s plans for the site, Mr. Gibbons insisted. That idea came up at a recent county Legislature meeting. It was suggested by Legislator Kate Browning (WF-Mastic), who has a trap and skeet range in her district that residents have complained about. She said the North Fork Preserve would be a good area for such a facility. Bill Lindsay (D-Sayville), the legislature’s presiding officer, reportedly also backed the idea, although North Fork legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) has said there are enough votes to kill the proposal.

Mr. Gibbons said a trap and skeet range would need about 60 acres.

He stressed, however, that whatever plans are agreed, it will take about 10 years for the entire vision to be realized, because the county doesn’t have the money to implement the plan as of now.

“I’d like to put a resolution forward Tuesday to support this with the understanding that there be no trap and skeet,” Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said Thursday. He also plans to require that ATVs not be allowed on the property.

Asked later if someone had proposed that, Mr. Walter said, “No. But I’m waiting for Kate Browning to do it.”

Ms. Giglio asked if the town could get payments in lieu of taxes for the parkland, which would come off the tax rolls if the county and town acquired it. She also asked whether the town could get a revenue sharing agreement with the county, since the town would be part owners.

Mr. Walter said the county won’t do PILOTs and if the town wanted to share in the revenues from the park, the county would want the town to also share in the ongoing maintanence and staffing expenses.

Riverhead Councilman George Gabrielsen said he’s also concerned about the loss of tax revenue from the land, but supports the park proposal.

Councilmen Jim Wooten and John Dunleavy also supported the park plan.

The North Fork Preserve property stretches from Sound Shore Road in the north to Sound Avenue to the south in Northville.

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