Peconic Crossing, the 45-unit apartment building on West Main Street, is completed and fully occupied.
Rochester-based developer Conifer Realty, which partnered with Community Development Corporation of Long Island, celebrated the project’s completion today with ribbon-cutting ceremonies and the grand opening of a first-floor art gallery being managed by East End Arts.
State and local officials, including Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, were on hand for the ceremonies.
Residents have been living at Peconic Crossing since September. The building has 20 two-bedroom apartments and 16 one-bedroom apartments. All are rent-controlled and tenants are required to meet income limits set forth by the N.Y. State Homes and Community Renewal agency which has granted low-income tax credits to investors in the project.
Maximum rents are based on affordability scales tied to median household incomes in Suffolk County, published by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The lieutenant governor called the project “a model for other communities across the state.”
Hochul said as a former town planning board member, she understands “the delicate balance” of trying to meet the needs of existing residents while encouraging economic development.
As someone who doesn’t live in Riverhead, she said, she can see the town “with fresh eyes.”
“You come into town and you see the river, museums, the aquarium, the bread-and-butter mom-and-pop shops,” Hochul said. “It just gives it a sense of place, an authenticity that I feel here in Riverhead that is missing in many other communities,” she said.
“So those of you who call this community home, celebrate — because you have something very unique, not just a location on Long Island, one of the most wonderfully diverse communities in the state,” Hochul told the crowd assembled in the first-floor gallery space. “You have something unique here.”
Downtowns need to keep reinventing themselves to stay fresh and alive, the lieutenant governor said.
“The most important thing to keep a downtown alive, in my opinion, is to bring housing downtown,” Hochul said. “That is the lynchpin. That is the key. That is the secret sauce,” she said.
She commended Riverhead leaders for recognizing the importance of housing downtown and said she was shocked at how many communities have zoning that doesn’t allow it.
Whether high-density multifamily housing on Main Street — five-story housing in particular — is appropriate for Main Street has been the subject of great debate in Riverhead, with Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith and Councilwoman Catherine Kent advocating zoning code changes to end five-story construction and require the purchase of development rights to allow third and fourth stories on Main Street. The board is also working on rewriting the zoning code’s design guidelines for buildings downtown.
Jens-Smith, who followed Hochul to the podium today, said Riverhead has retained its “sense of place.” A building like Peconic Crossing “helps create that sense of place for our future,” she said.
“This building highlights everything that we want to be and where we’re looking to go,” she said. “It’s right next to our community garden… and a three-acre park. The views from here are outstanding. And then we get to celebrate the arts as well,” she said.
“Everything we want our town to be is sort of encapsulated in this project,” Jens-Smith said.
There were more than 900 applicants for the 45 rental apartments. Community Development Corporation of Long Island held a lottery in June to rank the applicants. Preference was given to artists and individuals displaced by SuperStorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene or Tropical Storm Lee. The ranked applicants then had to be screened and qualified.
Twelve of the 45 apartments have been rented to artists, according to the organization. There is a waiting list for vacancies that may become available.
The fifth floor features a common area with a deck overlooking Grangebel Park and the Peconic River, providing expansive views of the river, the park and the downtown area.
“It’s the first waterfront affordable housing project on Long Island, which is pretty cool,” said L.I. Association president Kevin Law, who also chairs the L.I. Regional Economic Development Council.
Residents in two apartments on the fifth floor agreed to allow their homes to be open for a tour today.
Larry Oxman, president of the L.I. Science Center, which sold the site to Conifer, said he was pleased with the result.
“The town was very lucky to have gotten Conifer,” Oxman said. Conifer Realty was the second developer with which the science center struck a deal. The first one opted not to go forward.
Conifer Realty, based in Rochester, specializes in the development, management and ownership of affordable housing communities. It is currently working on a 51-unit development in Southold Town, among others.
The first exhibit in the ground-floor gallery space showcases the paintings and sculptures of Gina Gilmour of Mattituck. The gallery will be run by East End Arts, whose gallery director Jane Kirkwood selected the works included in the gallery’s inaugural show. Gilmour’s work will be on exhibit for three months, with new exhibits mounted every three months thereafter, Kirkwood said today. The gallery will be open to the public.
“We’re excited to be partnering with CDC of Long Island and the Town of Riverhead,” East End Arts executive director Shawn Hirst said. East End Arts has its main gallery at 133 East Main St. and operates several satellite galleries, including one at the Jamesport Manor Inn. It also exhibits art at Riverhead Town Hall.
The Peconic Crossing gallery is spacious and, with large windows on Main Street, enjoys ample natural light.
“It’s a wonderful space to exhibit,” said Gilmour, whose oil paintings include outsize canvases that are difficult to show in East End Arts’ main gallery, housed in a converted 18th century home.
RiverheadLOCAL photos by Denise Civiletti