Riverhead officials today announced a code enforcement crackdown on Main Street that they said resulted in the issuance of over 100 violations at 10 properties.
Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith called the enforcement sweep “major action” by her administration to correct “unsafe and out of code properties” in downtown Riverhead.
“Under the previous administration, these unsafe and out of code properties were allowed to skate by,” she said. Some of the buildings had not been inspected in 10 years, she said.
“Some building owners have allowed their properties to deteriorate to such an extent that they are unsafe for businesses looking to locate in Riverhead’s downtown,” the supervisor said.
Jens-Smith said violations included animal infestation, leaky roofs, exposed asbestos, failing integrity of wall systems, unsafe electrical wiring, foundation walls with severe cracks, rusted support columns and nonoperational fire and sprinkler systems.
“Riverhead will no longer accept the status quo. It’s a safety issue, plain and simple,” Jens-Smith said.
Owners of seven of the 10 properties have worked with the town to bring their properties up to code, Jens-Smith said.
Owners of the other three properties have not taken remedial action, she said, and were issued “orders to remedy,” which provide legal notice that the owners have 30 days to remedy the violations. The 30-day periods are up between April 19 and April 22, the supervisor said. At that point, the town is prepared to take legal action against the building owners, she said.
Asked to identify the buildings that had violations issued as a result of inspections by code enforcement officers and town fire marshals, Jens-Smith declined.
“Out of respect for the property owners, I can’t give addresses. You can FOIL for it,” she said, acknowledging that the documents are public records accessible under the state Freedom of Information Law.
After the press conference, Jens-Smith said the town attorney’s office advised the board not to announce the property locations at the press conference and she wouldn’t disclose the information.
But town attorney Robert Kozakiewicz, when asked, provided the street addresses and tax map numbers of the properties that had been issued orders to remedy.
Two of them are vacant buildings located at 53-55-59 E. Main Street and 117 E. Main Street and the third site is the building at 103 E. Main Street, according to Kozakiewicz.
Riverhead Enterprises owns the building at 53-55-59 E. Main Street, which is the building located on the south side of the street known as 49 E. Main St. It also the building at 117 E. Main Street.
Shelly Gordon, a principal in Riverhead Enterprises, said in an interview this afternoon that his company is “in receipt of the orders and is in the process of taking the necessary steps to timely remedy the properties.” The property owner has had “a workman out there all the past week,” Gordon said. “We definitely are cooperating.”
The third building is owned by North to South 103 E. Main St LLC, according to town tax records. North to South purchased the site with the intention of renovating “the 10,000-square-foot vacant and deteriorating structure into the Riverhead Food Hall and Market – a regional food-based tourist attraction that will provide small retail spaces and shared commercial facilities for agritourism related businesses,” according to the Riverhead Community Development Agency’s 2016 annual report. The site, on the south side of East Main Street, on the corner opposite Sunny’s Riverhead Diner and Grill, was previously occupied by West Marine. Developer Michael Butler, a principal North to South, was not available for comment.
Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said in an interview after the press conference, which she and the other council members attended, that she believes today’s announcement was “a campaign ploy to make it look like things are getting done when they aren’t.”
Giglio said the fire marshal’s office doesn’t have the personnel resources to make timely inspections of businesses throughout the town — inspections required by state codes, she said. Dozens of businesses are past-due for annual or tri-annual inspections, Giglio said.
“These are buildings that are occupied, buildings that the public is invited into,” she said. “If we really care about the safety, then what are we doing about all these other buildings?”
The town should be focusing on them rather than on vacant buildings on Main Street, Giglio said.
The longstanding vacancies on Main Street have been “an issue for as long as I can remember,” Deputy Supervisor Catherine Kent said.
“Some of the owners seem to sit on their properties asking high rent, waiting for revitalization and yet their buildings hold up revitalization efforts,” Kent said.
“It’s time for these few negligent owners to come to the table and work with us to do what’s right for our town,” she said.
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