“Ugly”… “Queens” … “Silly”… “Out of place” … “Co-Op City” … “Behemoth”… “Hempstead” those were just some of the many, many negative reactions that dominated the internet last week as Riverhead got its first look at Supervisor Walter’s white elephant plan for downtown Riverhead. (See story.) They say a picture is worth a thousand words and now that we’ve seen what Supervisor Walter has in store for Main Street, many of the words people are speaking are the four-letter kind.
Have you driven downtown lately? The next time you are stuck in traffic on Main Street, take a look at the new, ugly, grey, multistory concrete box of a building that is rising on East Main to block out the sky. That’s the first piece of what, if Mr. Walter has his way, will soon to be our Jamaica, Queens-like skyline. Is that what you want Riverhead to look like?
Supervisor Walter, who grew up in Selden, seems hell-bent on bringing Jericho Turnpike-style planning to our historic downtown. Supervisor Walter’s plan for Main Street makes no sense and it has to be stopped.
Supervisor Walter’s grand plan currently calls for downtown to become a district of impersonal five-story buildings that will contain up to 500 “affordable” apartments; small container-size living spaces and hyper-development that will totally choke out downtown, not save it. Take a look at the current architectural plans; Mr. Walter’s scheme would thoroughly strip Main Street of its once-proud character. The mega-developers Mr. Walter has personally recruited (and who have given so readily to his political campaigns) will not be required to construct sufficient onsite parking for their tenants.
Who’s going to pay for this silly plan? You are. You’ve paid for the high-priced consultants who come to Supervisor Walter’s fundraisers and create studies he ignores. You’ll pay big bucks for of each and every one of these monstrosities who will receive a package property and sales tax breaks. You’ll pay for the parking garage that will ultimately have to be built and you will pay dearly, in increased school taxes to pay for the children who will inevitably come with affordable housing. New students who are unaccounted for in our master plan and may cause us to have to build a new school.
Why wasn’t this thought out? Where is the vision? The plan? Are you looking forward to increased school taxes? Is a downtown of concrete apartment buildings where you want to spend a beautiful weekend day? If you couldn’t park downtown, would you go downtown?
What about access to the Peconic, we’re “Riverhead” — remember? Is a sea of cars what you envision for downtown? Tenants constantly moving their cars because they need to be parked overnight. Are glass buildings with no set backs what you picture Main Street looking like? Sure, we need some residents downtown but Mr. Walter’s plan is out of proportion and poorly thought-out.
What should we be doing downtown? Think Greenport, not Queens. It starts by cleaning up downtown. Get the graffiti off the walls; start to take back the streets. Increase police presence so Main Street becomes a place you feel safe in at night. We have a beautiful park in Grangebel, let’s clean it up and use it, that’s what will push out the bad. Obtain grants for charming signs. Recruit successful shopkeepers from elsewhere to bring a branch downtown. Encourage the arts, don’t foster the ugly. Instead of soliciting their campaign contributions, get tough with the landlords that laugh at our code.
Bay Shore, Northport, Huntington, even Amityville and Wyandanch are all seeing a resurgence downtown. Their downtowns are full, ours still has too many empty storefronts. Riverhead is unique in that we are the one downtown that progress has passed by. Supervisor Walter likes to say we are “10 years behind Patchogue.” We are…the nearly 10 years he has governed. There’s a lot of work to be done but new leadership can make the difference. If we only have the courage to change.
Laura Jens-Smith is a Democratic candidate for town supervisor. She lives in Laurel.
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