The dawning of a new year sparks hope and inspires optimism. It’s nearly a blank slate, a time to start over — and this time get it right. The possibilities and the opportunities are endless. At least that’s how it feels at the beginning of each new year — and this in the dead of winter, even though the ground is bare, the sky is steely gray and daylight is short.
The optimism I feel each Jan. 1 is no doubt connected to my being a morning person. I enjoy the new beginning that comes with each new day. I greet each sunrise enthusiastically, albeit aided by a pot of French roast, brewed in the darkness of my predawn kitchen. The eastern sky takes on a pink hue shortly after its blackness gives way to deep blue. The pinkish glow spreads across the horizon, silhouetting the trees and fence along the eastern boundary of the land we call home. I watch it all from my perch by the window, pausing to appreciate the miracle and wonder of daybreak before the hectic activity of another day encroaches.
There was a time long ago when the only sunrises I witnessed were those following a long night of dancing and partying. But when you’re 20-something, sunrise following an all-nighter on the town doesn’t have the same mystical, wondrous qualities it has when you’re pushing 50, rising early and grateful to be alive and well, in spite of some early morning aches and pains. How true the old saying “youth is wasted on the young.” It’s a pity you have to grow old in order to really understand.
Nevertheless, morning has broken on 2006. What the year will bring remains a mystery. We hope for the best as we step forward into the unknown.
As a community, we have many reasons for optimism. Riverhead is well-positioned as we enter the second half of this century’s first decade. Our town has finally gotten its act together. We’ve got a fully implemented comprehensive land use plan that will guide our town’s development for the next 20 years. And it’s a decent plan, too, limiting population growth and preventing commercial sprawl throughout the hamlets. We’re on the right track — however tenuously — with the former Grumman property now that we’ve set our sights on completing the commercial zoning there before giving up any portion of it to housing schemes. And continued interest and investment in our community abounds — almost too much for some of us. Riverhead is in the catbird seat.
Now is the time for our supervisor and council members to show courage, vision and creativity. With a little of each, great things can happen.
Craft a transfer of development rights program that allows development rights to be taken off riverfront property along West Main Street and transferred to other downtown locations, acquiring the land for a riverfront park without taxpayer expense.
Sit down and seriously talk with the Shinnecocks about how the Indian tribe might use the EPCAL site and what kind of tax dollars Riverhead would see out of it. Talk with our state representatives about the possibility of a direct-access road from the LIE to EPCAL, an essential prerequisite to any intensive use of that site. Explore these things with an open mind and avoid knee-jerk reactions.
Finalize the additional industrial and commercial zoning at EPCAL. Don’t let the sun set on 2006 without making this important change. Get serious about housing code enforcement. Put in place a code that will stand up to judicial review, and then enforce it. Revisit the town ethics code. Fill in the gaps: Make mandatory the disclosure of the identity of all business partners and corporate co-owners of all town employees, elected and appointed alike. Set standards for the operation of the ethics board, requiring it to render decisions on all filed complaints within a fixed time limit and requiring that those decisions be made a matter of public record.
Will 2006 bring real progress on the restoration of the Suffolk Theatre? Ground-breaking on a much-needed expansion of Central Suffolk Hospital? A decision on a new high school? Construction of desperately needed rental units downtown? The beginning of improvements to Route 58?
A year from now, when we look back on 2006, will we see a year of action and accomplishment or a year of indecision and stagnation? Maybe it’s just my heady flush of new year optimism, but my bet’s riding on progress.