The Peconic Paddler site is slated for redevelopment if sewage treatment capacity is available. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The Riverside/Flanders community is pushing hard to win designation as an “opportunity zone” in a new program established by the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

Designation as an opportunity zone will allow the community access to Opportunity Funds revenue. Opportunity Funds provide investors the chance to put that money to work rebuilding low- to moderate-income communities. Investors will be able to pool their resources in opportunity zones, increasing the scale of investments going to underserved areas, according to Empire State Development, the state’s economic development agency.

“Riverside has been the most disinvested community in all of Southampton and all of Suffolk County for decades,” said Ron Fisher, chairperson of the Flanders Riverside and economic development past president of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association, and the group’s past-president.

FRNCA has launched a campaign to lobby for the designation, including an online petition drive at Change.org.

“We’re not aware of any other campaign in the state where the community is pushing for it,” Fisher said.

Fisher hand-delivered to the governor pages from the petition containing 407 signatures yesterday. Gov. Andrew Cuomo was on Long Island yesterday to attend a political function in Holtsville. Fisher and Siris Barrios of Riverside Rediscovered went to the event to try to put the petition in the governor’s hands.

“We positioned ourselves in a place where we thought he’d have to walk by us when he came down off the stage,” Fisher said.

It worked.

Courtesy photo

Fisher and Barrios even grabbed some selfies with the governor.

The group is still collecting signatures on the petition.

“We’re planning to head up to Albany on deadline day to deliver the whole thing,” Fisher said.

They will also provide copies of the petition to Empire State Development, N.Y. Homes and Community Renewal and the state’s Regional Economic Development Councils, which have been tasked by the governor with researching all potential economic opportunity zone areas.

The Southampton Town Board on March 15 approved a memorializing resolution asking the governor to name the Riverside/Flanders census tract an opportunity zone.

The town has already approved the Riverside Revitalization Action Plan, which FRNCA calls “the largest workforce housing project ever approved on Long Island, with 3.1 million square feet of mixed-uses including 2,262 residential units.”

Most of the development envisioned in the plan is dependent on access to a sewage treatment facility. The Environmental Facilities Corporation has designated over $100 million for construction of a sewage treatment plant to serve Riverside and Flanders, according to FRNCA.

The Town of Riverhead is also seeking opportunity zone designation for the two census tracts that encompass downtown Riverhead and the Enterprise Park at Calverton. The two census tracts are contiguous — as is the Riverside-Flanders census tract.

The downtown Riverhead census tract is a designated “low-income community” under federal standards measuring poverty rate and median income.

The hamlet of Riverside, by itself, meets the 20-percent poverty rate threshold for designation as a low-income community, but it is only one segment of a census tract that also takes in the Flanders and Northampton hamlets, which have higher median income levels and lower poverty rates. As a whole, the census tract does not meet the standards for designation of a low-income community.

The Riverside/Flanders census tract can be designated an opportunity zone, however, because it is contiguous to the designated low-income community census tract of downtown Riverhead. The same is true of the census tract that takes in the enterprise park.

Each U.S. governor can nominate up to 25 percent of the total eligible census tracts in the state to be designated opportunity zones.

In New York, 2,051 of a total 4,919 census tracts are eligible for designation as opportunity zones. Cuomo can therefore name up to 512 census tracts for the program. He could conceivably nominate all three census tracts for opportunity zone designation.

Other designated low-income community census tracts in Suffolk are located in Greenport, Mastic, Mastic Beach, Bellport, Middle Island, Brentwood Copiague, Huntington Station and Wyandanch. These and every census tract contiguous to them are eligible for designation as opportunity zones.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.