The Riverside Action Plan and its sweeping new land use proposals will be adopted by the Town of Southampton before the end of the year, Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst told local residents who packed the Phillips Avenue Elementary School cafeteria last night for a town board public hearing on the plan.
While the subject of the public hearing was the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement prepared by master developer Renaissance Downtowns — a document that analyzes the anticipated environmental and socioeconomic impacts of the transformative plan — dozens of residents went to the podium simply to plead with the board to act.
For many who spoke, including Renaissance Downtown planner — and Flanders resident — Sean McLean, it was an emotional evening, a night marking not only the home stretch of a lengthy and extensive planning process, but the beginning of a long-sought dream realized.
“This is more meaningful to me than any other project I’m working on, any that I have ever worked on,” McLean said after the hearing. “It’s very emotional for me.”
After McLean presented the plan, sketching out the existing conditions of the hamlet study area — which he called “the most economically distressed hamlet in all of Long Island” — and describing the proposed optional overlay zoning that he said are intended to “create a gateway to the East End,” residents and business owners stepped to the podium. Their comments were largely supportive.
Many spoke with passion, some even breaking down in tears as they spoke of crime in their neighborhoods — the drug activity and prostitution that has taken its toll not only on property values and quality of life, but has also claimed the lives of their own loved ones.
Kathy Kruel, struggling to retain control of her emotions, told the town board her nephew was murdered a block away from her house “because of what goes on in this community,” which she said has been plagued with drug activity, prostitution and violence for the 25 years that she’s lived there.
“We’ve got to clean it up,” Kruel said. “Our children are going to be safe. They’re going to have a place to play. They’re going to have a place to shop. We’re not going to take it anymore.”
Dawn Gilliam, who lost her 21-year-old daughter to a stray bullet when a fight broke out at a Flanders nightclub in 2003, said she has been working since last year to prevent the same premises from regaining its liquor license.
“It’s very personal to me,” said Dawn Gilliam. “We need this to work. We can’t do nothing. We’ve been doing nothing for too long.”
“Ive been a resident for close to 50 years,” said Susan Tocci of Flanders. “It has declined and declined and declined. I don’t even want to drive down Flanders Road for what I have to look at,” she told the board.
“Will this have traffic impacts? Yes. But that’s traffic I want to see — not the drug dealers, not the prostitutes,” she said to loud applause.
“I’m 110 percent behind this.”
A handful of speakers at last night’s hearing expressed concerns about the project’s impacts — among them, Riverhead school board president Susan Koukounas.
“The Riverhead Board of Education supports the revitalization of Riverside,” Koukounas said. “We’d also like to be proactive in accommodating the plan’s projected 283 new students — 28 students per year over the course of the 10-year construction. It states that a fair-share mitigation program will provide an evaluation and implementation of facility upgrades once a greater understanding of future enrollment is completed,” she said.
“Riverhead is one of the few districts on Long Island experiencing increasing enrollment. Over the past 10 years we averaged 10 new students per year. In this school year alone we increased by 187,” Koukounas said.
“I hope you’ll understand our board of education’s concern and put more concrete detail — when, what and how will fair share provide to Riverhead Central School District’s future students and taxpayers?”
Throne-Holst assured the school board president that those issues are of utmost concern to the town and will be fully addressed in the final generic environmental impact statement.
Former Riverhead school board member and Flanders resident Christine Prete said she shares the current board president’s concern.
“The density is unbelievable,” Prete said. “It’s huge. I’m concerned about the impacts on the school district.”
Resident Mike Bruno also said the proposed density was too high.
“I’m retired. I come from Brooklyn,” he said. I like open spaces. I don’t like that four-story look.”
Bay View Pines Civic Association board member Nikki Sacco said people in her community are not as aware of the project as they’d like to be, in order to give intelligent input on it. “
We really don’t know what the zoning entails, what the density is going to do,
what our school taxes are going to fly up to, if at all.
She asked for another meeting and asked the board to extend its time for public input.
Sacco also expressed objection to the allowable height of buildings near the traffic circle. “Everyone I’ve spoken to doesn’t want to see four- or five-story buildings in this area,” Sacco said. “I think if you could reduce the buildings to two-stories, you wouldn’t hear objections from anyone.”
The supervisor told her the record would remain open until Nov. 12 for written comment and reminded everyone that the plan documents are on the town’s website.
Flanders resident Neil Young said he is worried that as Riverside is cleaned up, the problem element” would move into Flanders, “which has problems of its own,” he said.
“I look at this project as a rebirth,” Riverside resident Robert “Bubbie” Brown said. He said when he was a child his family lived on Old Quogue Road. “It was a vibrant, family-oriented community, a community of God-fearing people. There were no drugs, no prostitution.”
But, Brown added, “I want people that look like me to have jobs. I want people on the board that look like me,” he said, referring to a town board with no minority representation.
Few speakers addressed the project’s potential environmental impacts.
Kevin McAllister of Defend H20 called the plan’s proposals for wastewater treatment, which include the construction of a new sewage treatment plant for the area, “stupendous” and “just outstanding.”
Councilman Brad Bender and Councilwoman Christine Scalera both said they were very pleased with the community turnout for the hearing and its reaction to the plan.
“I’m really pleased that the community is as excited about it as we are,” Scalera said.
Bender, a Northampton resident and former president of the Riverside-Northampton-Flanders Community Association credited Throne-Holst for making the revitalization plan happen.
“Upon taking office, she said, ‘It’s time’ and that’s what got it rolling,” Bender said.
The town board will likely adopt the FEIS and the new overlay zoning at its Dec. 22 meeting, Throne-Holst told the audience. It will be her last meeting as town supervisor. That’s a poignant moment for Throne-Holst, because she’s worked at the revitalization plan for six years and wants more than anything to see it come to fruition.
“For me, this was honestly a bit of a dream come true,” Throne-Holst said after the meeting ended.
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