Riverhead Town is looking to clean up its act.
A day after voting to remove an unsightly “trash corral” in the riverfront parking lot, and as it considers legislation to crack down on blighted buildings, the town board took up the subject of cleaning up other trouble spots.
Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said she has had conversations with representatives of the MTA about conditions at the LIRR station in Riverhead. The MTA has agreed to work on the station house — painting the trim and soffits, repointing the bricks — and replace the enclosure panels of the platform waiting area, she said.
The agency is also looking to issue a new request for proposals for a prospective tenant for the long-shuttered building, she said. Riverhead Town had previously struck a deal with the MTA to use the space as an administrative office for the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps, but the group has instead continued working out of an office at town hall.
The station has been closed for more than 40 years and though the MTA pumped about $1 million into renovating the 108-year-old building in the late 1990s, it has again fallen into disrepair. Paint is peeling off the long-vacant wood-trim brick building that once housed a waiting room and ticket office.
Landscaped areas become overgrown with weeds and strewn with litter. The sidewalks and street are marred with litter and grime. The north side of the station house facing the tracks where old railroad cars are being stored by the L.I. Railroad Museum, functions as an open-air urinal. The bricks and sidewalk there are stained with urine and its pungent stench on a warm summer day is noticeable yards away. There is no public bathroom at the site. A portable lavatory placed there by the town was removed in 2015 because town officials said it was impossible to keep clean.
Loitering and crime plague the area — and have for years. Incidents include everything from public intoxication, assaults and robberies to stabbings.
A block of commercial buildings on the south side of Railroad Street opposite the station includes a bodega, a stationery store, a barber shop, a bar, taxi cab offices and a vacant lot where a closed-up former restaurant was condemned by the town and demolished once stood. Large municipal parking lots bookend the block of shops, which are bordered on the south by offices and court buildings.
“I don’t like it here,” a young woman waiting for a bus outside the train station building said yesterday afternoon. “It’s creepy. I don’t feel safe.”
While trains are infrequent, the site is a hub for several Suffolk Transit bus lines, which discharge and pickup passengers there.
The woman, who lives in the Fairfield apartment complex on West Main Street, was trying to get home from work. She’d just started a second job in Jamesport, she said. It was her first day and the difficulty of traveling back and forth by public transportation was giving her second thoughts.
She’d taken the S92 from Jamesport to the railroad station. The route of the S92 is a loop around the twin forks from Orient to East Hampton. Just before 1 p.m. yesterday, she had been waiting at the station for an S62 bus for almost an hour. According to the bus schedules, her connecting bus should have arrived at the railroad station stop within 20 minutes of the S92.
A teenager from Mattituck heading for work at Splish Splash waited with her, growing nervous that the delayed S62 was going to make him late for work. He was due at the water park at 1:15, he said.
A third person waiting for the S62 was a Medford woman who had gotten off work at a Main Street business. She needed to take the S62 to Coram and then switch to another bus to take her south on Route 112 to Medford. The trip is supposed to take about an hour. She, too, was already waiting for the S62 nearly that long.
At Riverhead Town’s request, two benches on the south side of the building, where the building roof overhang provides some shade and shelter, had been removed by the MTA. Jens-Smith said during yesterday’s work session, they had been installed on the sides of the building, but as of yesterday afternoon only one bench had been installed on the east side and none on the west, where several people were sitting on the sidewalk.
Jens-Smith said she has asked Suffolk County to relocate the bus stop further west on Railroad Avenue, away from the building. She has asked the county to provide two bus shelters at the new location.
“They’re working on it,” she said.
Last year, town officials asked the county to move the bus stop to Cedar Avenue, but that would have required a change in some bus routes and it would have cost the county about $20,000 to make the change, Jens-Smith said.
The narrow sidewalk on Cedar Avenue would have made installation of a shelter impossible, leaving people waiting for a bus exposed to the elements or requiring them to wait under the protective roof of the station house and cross the street to catch their bus.
The idea drew criticism from public transit advocate Vince Taldone, who
called it “a poor transit planning decision” that is “nonsensical and ultimately cruel.”
In a July 5, 2017 email to elected officials and planners, Taldone said the station house building “provides protection from rain, wind and sun better than any other stop on Eastern Long Island” for the “many hundreds of people who use the station house stop.” The station house is a “transit hub” that serves four different bus lines, Taldone noted.
Jens-Smith said the town is planning a cleanup day at the station and is seeking volunteers to help pick up litter, pull weeds and plant flowers in the neglected landscaping beds bordering the station platform. The date will be announced, she said. Anyone willing to help should contact her office.
The appearance of the area makes a bad impression on visitors to the court complex and all of downtown, Councilwoman Catherine Kent said.
Councilman James Wooten said yesterday he is hoping to reinvigorate the town’s anti-litter committee. Wooten has been the town board liaison to the committee for several years but interest in the committee has dwindled, he said.
The annual townwide spring cleanup has also had fewer participants, Wooten said. Hardly anyone showed up for this year’s cleanup, though it was a rainy day, the councilman said.
He has scheduled an anti-litter committee meeting for Saturday, Aug. 4 at 10 a.m. at town hall.
“We’re looking for ways to energize the town about taking pride in the community,” Wooten said. “All ideas are welcome.”