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Oct 30, 2015 3:06 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Details Of Riverside Revitalization Plan Shared At Public Hearing

A crowd of approximately 100 residents from the Riverside and surrounding communities attended a public hearing on the Riverside revitalization efforts on Monday, October 29 in Flanders. GREG WEHNER
Nov 4, 2015 9:36 AM

Nearly 100 people from Riverside and its surrounding communities attended a special Southampton Town public hearing last Thursday, October 29, to find out more and speak their minds about an ongoing revitalization effort in the hamlet.

During the meeting held at the Phillips Avenue Elementary School in Riverside, representatives of Plainview-based Renaissance Downtown presented the Riverside Revitalization Action Plan, or RRAP, to both the Town Board and the public.

Sean McLean, vice president of planning and development for Renaissance Downtowns and the head of the ongoing “Riverside Rediscovered” initiative, showed residents many of the zoning changes that would need to happen to transform one of the most economically distressed communities on Long Island into a thriving hub. Some of the proposed changes—including zoning modifications that property owners would have to support—would permit building heights of up to 55 feet for certain structures, while others would allow mixed uses, such as retail shops on ground floors with rental apartments above.

Other parts of the action plan call for the redevelopment of the Peconic River waterfront to include the construction of boardwalks and parks and the creation of additional roads. Another critical component, according to planners, is making sure that Suffolk County follows through on a proposal to establish a sewer district in the hamlet that is needed to permit the opening of restaurants and a small supermarket.

“Nowhere on Long Island represents a gateway to the North and South forks, and this is an opportunity to create that,” Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said.

The plan was created based on suggestions that were gathered from community members over the past year. This involved Mr. McLean and his team hitting the streets and knocking on doors to find out what residents, tenants, business owners and landlords want to see change in their community.

Most of the people in attendance were for the revitalization efforts, with several toting signs that read, “We have had enough. Revitalize Riverside Now,” and “We can’t wait any longer. We’ve waited long enough. Revitalize Riverside Now.”

Still, some stressed that they opposed the idea of the town allowing tall buildings to be constructed in the hamlet, stating that they would prefer if the town focuses on creating more open space. Under current zoning, buildings in the area must be capped at three stories; the proposed zoning would allow structures up to four-and-a-half stories in height.

Mr. McLean, who lives in neighboring Flanders, explained that the plan is to create a pedestrian-oriented area—something that is not possible now.

“Because of environmental constraints the area is under, it’s tough to have that many people unless we build up,” Mr. McLean said. “By going up, we reduce the impact on the ground.”

Others said they were worried about the amount of traffic that would be drawn to the area if revitalization efforts gain momentum, pointing to the current issues that are focused around the hamlet’s traffic circle. In June, Suffolk County set aside $4 million to realign and widen the traffic circle, work that should be started in fall 2016, according to Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman.

Susan Tocci, who has lived in Flanders for more than 50 years, said she and others have grown tired of watching the area decline.

“We need this,” she told the Town Board. “We are now the most economically distressed community on Long Island and I don’t want to live here. Everyone’s worried about traffic that will come, but it’s better than the traffic in the area from drugs and prostitutes.”

Mr. McLean pointed out that the biggest challenge of moving forward would be sewage, and the action plan calls for the creation of a sewage treatment plant that would service the area in and around the traffic circle, most notably along Flanders Road and Riverleigh Avenue. According to Mr. Schneiderman, the county previously allocated $250,000 for a study that examined the feasibility of the hamlet tapping into Riverhead Town’s sewage treatment facility. But that study was based on the hamlet generating some 15,000 gallons of waste a day.

Under the updated plans, Renaissance Downtowns projects that the area would need a facility capable of handling more than 100,000 gallons of sewage daily, essentially rendering the earlier study obsolete. “This will require a much larger sewage treatment facility to handle that amount,” Mr. Schneiderman said.

Many attendees said they would support efforts for a separate treatment plant.

“I have one word to describe the sewage treatment that was presented: stupendous,” said Kevin McAllister, founder and president of Defend H2O, an environmental advocacy group. “I think it’s outstanding what is being recommended.”

While a sewage treatment facility will eventually be needed, Mr. McLean said that one of the first immediate steps is getting the optional zoning in place, giving more flexibility to future development.

Still, some residents remained skeptical, asking questions like, “What if business owners don’t opt in?”

Mr. McLean then explained some of the incentives, noting that the rezoning suggestions were purposely designed to be an optional overlay district. Business owners who opt in will be able to access many of the benefits being offered, such as being connected with the proposed sewage treatment plant and being permitted to build four-story buildings, depending on their location.

“Nobody is going to be forced to do this. This is not eminent domain,” Mr. McLean said. “The current consensus among owners around the area has been positive.”

Ms. Throne-Holst added that special grants and small business loans, some of which are offered by the county and state, would be available to some of those who opt in.

“I’m hoping zoning is approved,” said Sandy Adams, president of the Riverwoods Homeowners Association, a community of mobile homes that sits off Riverleigh Avenue in Riverside. “We need this program in order to achieve significant change in this downtrodden community.”

Many efforts have been made to clean up Riverside in the past, which has some people, like John Locascio of Riverhead, wondering if the latest initiative can really work.

“If you continue to do things the same way, they continue to stay the same,” Mr. Locascio told the board.

“It has to work this time,” Mr. McLean countered. “I don’t know if we’ll have another chance after this.”

Town officials said last week that they would continue to accept public comments for the next 15 days, meaning that period should wrap up by the middle of November. At that point, the town will move to create a Final Environmental Impact Statement. The Town Board could vote on the suggested zoning changes in late December.

“We all have a pretty heavy emotional investment in this,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “Our plan is to adopt the zoning on December 22.”

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Election time lies. Southampton has been working on a revitalization program since the 70's. No sewer no revitalization.....period
By chief1 (2788), southampton on Nov 2, 15 7:29 AM
... what's with this "gateway" crap? Gateway to this, gateway to that - give me a break ATH. Total nonsense.
By William Rodney (558), southampton on Nov 2, 15 11:45 AM
Get Bloomberg or Giuliani on it in their retirement! Have to clean up the trash with a strong police presence and encourage commercial and residential growth with underlying utilities, tax benefits and economic benefits!
By Mouthampton (437), Southampton on Nov 4, 15 6:22 PM