The Democratic candidates for Riverhead Town Board today reprised a downtown “walking tour” the Democratic slate led in 2015, pointing to persistent problems along Main Street they say the Republican incumbents on the town board have failed to address.
“Here we are two years later and really not much has changed,” supervisor candidate Laura Jens-Smith said, standing in front of the building labeled an “information booth” on Heidi Behr way, at the Peconic Avenue entrance. “This information booth, boarded and shuttered — does that really say ‘welcome?’” she asked.
“We still have 14 vacant stores — the same number of vacant stores when Sean Walter took office,” Jens-Smith said. “Businesses are still struggling to stay afloat here. Our parking issues are not being addressed — and they’re only going to be worse with apartment buildings are built without enough parking. Safety issues are still a concern and still hamper visitors, because sometimes visitors feel unsafe,” she said, “and we still don’t pay attention to the aesthetics.”
Jens-Smith faulted the town board for authorizing a $575,000 downtown revitalization study — funded with a state grant — and failing to even try to implement its recommendations. “They put it in a drawer,” she said.
As the tour advanced from the information booth to the parking lot near the Dumpsters that serve several stores and restaurants on East Main Street, the candidates talked about what can be done to improve things.
“There are so many little things that can be done to make downtown Riverhead more attractive to visitors,” She and her running mates, Catherine Kent and Michele Lynch, pointed out problems they say should not be a difficult fix. The problems linger, they said, mostly because the town board doesn’t stay on top of them.
The trio of candidates said more aggressive code enforcement could force the owners of vacant, derelict buildings to spruce them up. An example, they said, is the old West Marine building, where missing plate glass windows have been replaced by sheets of plywood.
A row of unsightly — and smelly — Dumpsters in the riverfront parking lot. Cratered parking lots and access roadways. Oversized and out-of-place crosswalk signs installed by the state after it re-paved Route 25. Unsightly vacant storfronts and facades.
“Why do these things remain year after year?” Jens-Smith asked.
“Main Street lacks curb appeal,” council candidate Catherine Kent said. Owners of derelict buildings should be cited and fined for their poor condition.
In sum, the town should be more proactive and aggressive, they said.
And the town needs to do more to brand and market downtown Riverhead, according to the candidates.
“Many people don’t know the assets we have downtown,” Jens-Smith said.
The walking tour ended at Blue Duck Bakery, where co-owner Nancy Kouris talked about the continuing struggle she and her husband and partner Keith have to stay alive on East Main Street. They opened their bakery five years ago and currently have locations in Southampton, Southold and Greenport also.
Parking is a problem in Riverhead, Kouris said, but the biggest problem is the lack of foot traffic.
When the apartments are built and occupied, Kouris said, the foot traffic will presumably be there, she said. “But that’s not going to be for another two years,” she said.
“It’s hard to be sustainable without foot traffic. How do we survive until then?”