File photo: Peter Blasl

A planning and architecture firm whose work is “informed by historic precedent” pitched its services to the Riverhead Town Board this morning at a special work session.

Historical Concepts, a firm based in Atlanta and New York, will develop land use recommendations for the downtown business district that complement existing architecture downtown, company president Andrew Cogar told board members.

The firm was recommended to the town board by the downtown revitalization committee. Historical Concepts is working with the Town of Southampton on a land use plan for the hamlet of Hampton Bays. Janice Scherer of Baiting Hollow, co-chair of the downtown revitalization committee, works for the neighboring town as its assistant planning director. She has been impressed with the firm’s approach, Scherer told the town board at the May 30 work session, when members of the downtown revitalization committee gave the board an update. Board members agreed they’d like to hear from Historical Concepts and the town supervisor set up today’s meeting.

Zoning regulations are usually served up as very dry, highly technical prose. People have a tough time visualizing what zoning codes produce in terms of actual construction, Cogar said.

Then, when projects are built out according to zoning code specs, people are often surprised — and dismayed — with the result.

Historical Concepts develops a “pattern book,” which presents graphical depictions of buildings, street layouts, architectural patterns, landscapes and public spaces that can be developed under an adopted zoning code.

Riverhead has had a number of downtown revitalization plans completed. Historical Concepts proposes to create “visualizations” of four scenarios: full development under existing zoning; full development under recommendations made by the business advisory committee; full development under recommendations made by the downtown revitalization committee; and full development under the recommendations of the Brownfields Opportunities Area (BOA) study.

The firm would also conduct community consensus-building activities, including surveys and presentations.

“Respect for the surrounding built and natural environment and its regional culture should inform future growth, and pattern books encourage inevitable development to address regional traditions,” Historic Concepts wrote in the Hampton Bays final pattern book. “Continuity of architectural aesthetics and patterns for a walkable hamlet … will result in a tangible sense of place special to” the hamlet in question.

Cogar and architect Elizabeth Dillon, who heads up the firm’s New York office, showed board members the work Historical Concepts has done in other communities, such as Senoia, Georgia, where it developed historic district design guidelines for new form-based zoning in the downtown area, as well as guidelines for two new developments.

Riverhead officials have initiated a request for proposals process for an comprehensive plan rewrite that would take in the entire town. They may consider doing a separate plan that focuses on downtown, which has had the benefit of fairly recent planning initiatives. The existing townwide comprehensive plan was completed in 2003.

Historical Concepts’ proposal, as presented today, carries a price tag of $160,000 plus printing costs.

The town will be able to cover planning costs by tapping into the more than $1 million in community benefit funding being paid by solar energy producer sPower under an agreement authorized by the town board May 22.

Board members today did not discuss among themselves their reactions to the presentation.

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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.