The five-story Peconic Crossing development completed earlier this year, as seen from West Main Street. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Riverhead officials are working on zoning code changes that would eliminate five-story buildings on Main Street — or at least on the south side of Main Street.

A code amendment under consideration would limit building height in the DC-1 district to 24 feet (two stories) and reduce lot coverage to 80 percent (from the current 100 percent allowed).

The maximum building height could be increased to 48 feet (four stories) with the transfer of development rights at the ratio of one development right per 3,000 square feet of gross floor area, according to the draft plan. Third and fourth stories would be required to be set back 15 and 30 feet respectively from the front and rear property lines.

The town’s transfer of development rights code would have to be amended to designate the DC-1 district as a receiving area in order to allow developers to purchase development rights from parcels in designated TDR sending areas (within the Agricultural Protection Zone). This concept was laid out in the final version of the town’s comprehensive plan adopted in November 2003, but when the DC-1 zoning code was adopted a year later, it allowed five-story buildings with apartments on the upper floors without any requirement for transferring development rights.

A draft of a proposed code revision was prepared by building and planning administrator Jefferson Murphree and circulated to board members in advance of a discussion during Thursday’s work session.

The DC-1 zoning use district encompasses the properties on both sides of a segment of Main Street — roughly from just west of Griffing Avenue on the west side of town to just east of Ostrander Avenue on the east side of town.

For the past 14 years, the DC-1 zoning code has allowed 60-foot-tall buildings with rental apartments on the upper floors, only two of the mixed-use buildings have been constructed to date (Summerwind Square and Peconic Crossing) with a third (Riverview Lofts) underway. A handful of additional applications have been filed, but only one of those — at the former Sears site — has proceeded to coordinated review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act.

The DC-1 code limits the overall number of upper-floor apartments to 500 units.

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith and Councilwoman Catherine Kent have both called for scaling back downtown development.

Summerwind Square at 40 Peconic Avenue was the first multistory mixed use building developed under the 2004 DC-1 zoning code. (View from the Peconic Riverfront parking lot in October 2016. File photo: Peter Blasl

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who is a partner in the company that developed and built Summerwind Square, said she has heard “some concerns from the business community about limiting” downtown buildings to two stories.

“We’re here to represent the will of the community,” Kent said. “Residents don’t want to see these massive buildings along the riverfront… I think for too many years we’ve catered to a few business people as opposed to what the whole community wants,” she said.

Giglio questioned whether the height reduction would be needed throughout the DC-1 zoning use district which she said was “a pretty large district” and said the board should consider making the changes on the south side of Main Street only.

Properties along Second Street, which runs parallel to Main Street, are in the DC-5 district (Residential) on the east, DC-4 (Office/Residential Transition) between East and Roanoke avenues and, for the most part DC-3 (Office) west of Roanoke and in the area around the train station.

In December 2015, the town board agreed to revisit downtown zoning with an eye toward scaling back development along Main Street and increasing development density in the areas north of Main Street, a concept that Councilman James Wooten suggested a couple of time prior to that discussion. The board then agreed to look for grant money to work on a master plan revision for the downtown hamlet, but it never moved forward.

“I think having the larger buildings closer to the railroad tracks and cascading down to the river is a good idea. It is something that I was interested in years ago,” Giglio said.

Architect’s 2017 rendering of Metro Group’ Properties’ proposed five-story apartment building adjacent to the East End Arts complex on East Main Street.

Murphree’s memorandum and draft code revision also suggests revised design standards that would require the design of new buildings to “complement the character of existing historic development in the surrounding area.” Standards would also require reduction in mass and scale by staggering building walls and varying rooflines.

“Modern or contemporary designs are discouraged,” the draft states.

Giglio said she likes the idea of setbacks for upper stories to create what she called “a wedding cake effect” and she also suggested requiring side yard setbacks of 15 feet to allow for space between buildings to provide views of the river and an “open corridor” for pedestrians.

Other board members agreed.

Jens-Smith said the aim is to pursue downtown revitalization without sacrificing the area’s “quaint, sustainable, historic character.”

“I think sustainability comes from diversity,” Wooten said. “Frankly, we don’t need Empire State buildings all the way down the south side of Main Street, I’ll give you that,” he said.

“I personally like the idea of two stories with the third story with TDR,” Kent said. “I’m not excited about anything taller on the south side. But I’m told this is a draft. I want to get input from the community.”

Giglio questioned why the draft did not include revised parking requirements. “Applications are coming in every day,” she said. “I think it’s important to require them to have parking for their apartments, now that parking is a problem downtown. Ten years ago parking wasn’t a problem but now it is and just as people are complaining about heights of buildings, they’re complaining about parking.”

The DC-1 district lies within the downtown parking districts, where developers are not required to provide any on-site parking for their projects. The town board is working on a revised parking code to change that. After going to a public hearing on a proposal earlier this year when property owners and others complained the town was not following the State Environmental Quality Review process, the board commenced that analysis. It is now waiting for a parking implementation plan commissioned several months ago before moving forward. The plan is expected to be delivered by the end of this month, community development director Dawn Thomas told board members yesterday.

Jens-Smith said the zoning code and parking code changes, as drafted, would apply to any new development that has not yet been issued a building permit. In other words, development plans in progress would not be “grandfathered” in and exempt from the new rules.

Draft of Proposed Revisions to Riverhead Town Code Ch. 301 (DC-1/Main Street) by RiverheadLOCAL on Scribd

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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.