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Feb 10, 2010 11:16 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Riverhead Town officials make pledge to revitalize downtown

Feb 10, 2010 11:16 AM

The new administration at Riverhead Town Hall on Friday laid out initiatives intended to steer businesses back to downtown Riverhead, an area where many buildings have stood vacant for years.

During the Downtown Riverhead Summit, hosted by the Riverhead Town Board in an empty building on Main Street, officials from that municipality promised to expedite site plan reviews in the near future. They also reminded developers of available tax credits and other incentives that are designed to attract new growth to a depleted downtown that borders the hamlets of Riverside and Flanders in Southampton Town.

About 70 percent of the buildings in downtown Riverhead are now vacant, and newly elected Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter, and members of his Town Board, are promising to change that.

“Downtown should be an area where arts thrive, businesses bustle, where people want to come here on a Saturday night,” Mr. Walter said.

Though the growth will not happen overnight, Mr. Walter told a standing-room only crowd that included developers and business owners that the summit is only the first step in breathing new life into the downtown.

“The answer to downtown is in this room,” he said while addressing the more than 100 people attending the event.

Businesses owners looking to open or build new offices in the downtown area, which includes East Main Street, will be on the fast track to get site plan approval from the Riverhead Town Planning Board, said Richard Hanley, that town’s planning director, as long as the developers submit completed site plans.

Mr. Hanley promised speedy reviews of applications, stating that he has challenged his staff to approve site plans within 60 days of their filing. According to Riverhead Town Deputy Supervisor Jill Lewis, legislation to allow for the expedited reviews should be approved in about six weeks.

The downtown area falls in an Empire Zone, a designation that means that property owners can apply for state tax credits that are designed to stimulate growth in blighted areas. Businesses that open shop in the zone get the “red carpet treatment,” said Tracy Stark, the coordinator of the program in Riverhead. Developers that bring their business to downtown Riverhead could be eligible for utility rates discounts, wage tax credits, property tax exemptions, or sales tax refunds, among other financial incentives, Ms. Stark said.

The recent redesignation of some land along the Peconic River, from a “recreational” labeling to “community,” does not include parts of East Main Street, where town officials are focusing their revitalization efforts, Mr. Walter said. Still, he said the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s January 12 decision to relax some development standards on 122 acres, including property along West Main Street and land near the Suffolk County Center in Riverside, will help breathe new life into the entire downtown area.

Riverhead’s location makes it a prime spot for redevelopment, said Christine Kempner, the director of Riverhead Town’s Community Development Agency. Atlantis Marine World on East Main Street attracts thousands of visitors a year, and plans are now in the works to build a hotel and gallery just east of the aquarium.

There are also businesses and other hubs near the downtown area that attract large groups of people. Those destinations include Peconic Bay Medical Center, Suffolk County’s Culinary Center and the Suffolk County Courts. The Long Island Expressway ends in Riverhead, and many passersby drive through Riverhead to get to the Hamptons, Ms. Kempner said.

“We have a great location,” she said. “It’s a gateway to both forks.”

When reached after the summit, Mr. Walter shot down the opinions of naysayers who believe that the almost overnight development of the Route 58 corridor is to blame for strangling the downtown area. He pointed out those large retail stores and chain restaurants make up the majority of the town’s tax base.

“We just have not focused our attention on downtown the way we did on Route 58,” he said. “This administration is about to do that.”

Though the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is expected to eliminate almost all Long Island Rail Road service to the North Fork starting in September, Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine promised to improve public transportation in the area. He was optimistic that Riverhead will soon be on an economic rebound.

“This is where Long Island is going to come back,” he said during his remarks at the summit. “Riverhead is where it’s happening.”

Riverhead has great potential to be a thriving community, and the national trends are on its side, said Eric Alexander, the executive director of Vision Long Island. Downtown centers where people can work, play and live are what a lot young people are looking for, he said. “You’ve got great bones,” he said.

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Sounds like the same old story. Old (party) developers out, new (party)developers in and lots of hoopla. Ms. Kempner, downtown Riverhead is not the gateway to the south fork. If you try to exploit that, you will fail.
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Feb 15, 10 9:33 PM
1 member liked this comment
tax free :
Quote-"You can come to downtown virtually tax free," Mr. Walter. This is exactly why we need to vote this bum out before he does more damage to the homeowners of Riverhead. The next supervisor should condemn Gordon's properties and others like his. Cardinal gave away the store(deferred Tanger Taxes, Deferred Grumman development taxes, deffered rt58 business taxes. Increased homeowner property taxes, increased school taxes and pay raises for the town board, town supervisor and now ...more
By Johnny Nova (83), Northampton on Feb 16, 10 9:01 AM
Kind of like Gabreski Airport - for the 32 years I've lived in the area both downtown Riverhead and Gabreski Airport were"diamonds in the rough" - with great potential, needing only the right plan, etc etc
This too shall pass - I'm sad to say. There seems to be a political process in place that is a poision to Downtown Riverhead - it is a potential diamond that is sadly neglected.
By North of Highway (280), Westhampton Beach on Feb 16, 10 1:08 PM
1 member liked this comment