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Nov 18, 2009 12:00 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Plan resurfaces to acquire Riverside property

Nov 18, 2009 12:00 PM

A long-discussed idea involving three government agencies, all trying to preserve a nearly one acre Riverside property overlooking the Peconic River, has resurfaced once again.

Under the latest proposal, Southampton Town and Suffolk County would split the cost of buying the land on which the Peconic Paddler, a kayak and canoe business, now sits from owner Jim Dreeben. The cost of the land has not been disclosed.

If all goes as planned, Riverhead Town would then annex the property as part of Grangebel Park, and officials in that town would be responsible for maintaining the waterfront facility.

But the proposed transaction cannot be completed until Mr. Dreeben can prove that his property, which once housed a gas station, is clean of contaminants. Eastern Environmental Solutions in Manorville removed 16 gas tanks and some 2,000 tons of contaminated dirt from the site in 2007. The company, however, never submitted the required paperwork to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation certifying that the land is free of pollutants because Mr. Dreeben still owes the firm approximately $100,000, according to both sides.

“I can’t sell it until it’s cleaned up,” said Mr. Dreeben, adding that the issue is now in court and he has no idea when he could sell his property. “No one would buy it.”

Officials with Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman’s office said this week that they were aware of the issue and the county would not buy contaminated land.

Still, the latest suggestion to acquire the Riverside property was discussed during a meeting attended by representatives of Suffolk County and Southampton and Riverhead towns in late October, according to Mr. Schneiderman. To date, only Suffolk County has agreed to its role in the proposal, Mr. Schneiderman said, adding that both Southampton and Riverhead towns must also be aboard.

Once Southampton and Riverhead sign off, the county can appraise the property and make Mr. Dreeben an offer, he said.

“It could all happen by the end of the year,” Mr. Schneiderman said.

Another potential stumbling block could be cost. Since the latest idea is still in its early stages, there were no details available regarding potential cost, according to Mr. Schneiderman.

Mary Wilson, the administrator of Southampton Town’s Community Preservation Fund, confirmed that the town is re-examining the proposal, which has been floating around since 2004. If an accord is reached, Southampton Town would tap money from its CPF to help acquire the land.

Anne Marie Prudenti, the deputy town attorney for Riverhead, did not return calls this week.

Mr. Dreeben said he has been trying to sell his property for years so he can open up a kayaking school, which would be based in Riverhead. Mr. Dreeben said Southampton Town approached him about possibly acquiring his property last year but that deal fizzled out after the economy tanked. The stalled cleanup project was also an issue, he said.

“We were at a point where revenues dropped precipitously,” Ms. Wilson said.

Mr. Dreeben said Southampton Town originally offered him $700,000 for his land. He said this week that he was not sure how much the town and county will offer this time around. Mr. Dreeben added that no one has yet reached out to him about the latest proposal, adding that his real estate agent approached Mr. Schneiderman’s office a few months ago.

Mr. Dreeben ran a gas station at the site from 1976 until 1980, when he opened the Peconic Paddler. He also ran a U-Haul business until Southampton Town made him remove it a few years ago, he said.

“The empty lot we used as a parking lot on the weekends, when we were very busy with customers,” he said.

Mr. Schneiderman explained that Mr. Dreeben’s business, which is located just north of the Riverside traffic circle, is the ideal spot for a park. He said it could easily accommodate picnic tables that can be enjoyed by those visiting Grangebel Park. Part of the plan calls for the razing of the building that now houses the Peconic Paddler.

The county legislator remains hopeful that latest proposal will gain legs because it would ultimately beautify both the hamlet of Riverside and downtown Riverhead.

“It will open up the view shed from the [traffic] circle,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “It will create a beautiful gateway into Riverhead. It will draw visitors and enhance the experience of downtown Riverhead.”

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200,000 tons of contaminated dirt ... seems like a lot of dirt for that little parcel.
By fix-it-now (216), sag harbor on Nov 17, 09 8:29 PM
The error was introduced during editing and has now been corrected.
Brendan O'Reilly
Web Editor
By BOReilly (135), 27east Web Editor on Nov 18, 09 11:44 AM
Isn't that parcel part of Riverhead Town? Where is the line between Riverhead/Southampton there? Why isn't Riverhead Town involved since it's their "gateway"?
By BigL11946 (29), Hampton Bays on Nov 20, 09 2:12 PM