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In My Opinion
Why Riverhead is still missing the mark on downtown revitalization

2013 1030 downtown lights

Main Streets on Long Island have struggled over the past several decades due in large part to chain retailers drawing shoppers away.

As with any pendulum swing, Main Streets all over Long Island have begun to draw community members back to their downtowns resulting in revitalization by attracting young people, empty nesters and young families looking to live, shop and socialize in a walkable downtown community. This type of transit-oriented development is In my opinion badgepredicated on the fact that jobs and housing are located within walking distance or easily accessible by public transit. Sounds great, but is this true in Riverhead?

Train service from Riverhead to points west is very limited. Bus service can be difficult to navigate and folks don’t seem willing to give up their cars. We need only look to the Summer Wind and the Woolworth apartment buildings to see the increased downtown parking required to accommodate these tenants. With that in mind are we trying to force a square peg into a round hole or should we plan for development to accommodate the unique needs of our community?

In the 2013 $570,000 study the town commissioned, one of the items was to determine how to overcome obstacles to redevelopment downtown. The findings stated the current downtown (DC-1) zoning “would permit an impracticable level of development”. The study recommended that any future residential development have their own parking, reduce the number of allowable apartments from 500 to 325, reduce allowable lot coverage and a vast reduction in size to the upper floors of any development. It is four years later and the supervisor has not enacted any of the recommendations to support practical growth downtown and is poised to do just the opposite in approving current building plans before the Town Board.

Current proposals and construction projects for downtown are contrary to most Main Street revitalization efforts. Towns try to preserve their existing Main Street buildings retaining the character and history of their communities and develop new housing projects in the surrounding areas or on side streets with ample parking.

As communities struggle to retain and attract people downtown, housing is proving to be a viable and welcomed solution for revitalization.

But in order to achieve this, smart growth is needed. This takes planning and a strong commitment to encourage development that provides a variety of housing types. From homeownership opportunities to rental units that are both affordable and market rate and includes apartments, condominiums and town houses so that the needs of a full range of community members from diverse social and income groups can be met.

Planned development downtown must unite the needs of businesses, patrons and residents to be successful, for without successful businesses, downtown cannot survive. Communities that have been able to achieve this have seen their downtowns revitalized and have once again become the heartbeat of the community.

Walter has not proven to be committed to this endeavor. As we have seen no change in zoning to encourage smart development or the formulation or even discussion of a cohesive plan to tackle these issues. At a recent “Eggs and Issues” breakfast hosted by The Riverhead Chamber of Commerce, Walter told downtown business owners “we have done all we can do for you.”

Riverhead deserves a clear plan for downtown revitalization and we need it now.

 

Laura Jens-Smith of Laurel is a candidate for Riverhead Town supervisor this year.

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