Town supervisor candidate Yvette Aguiar recently wrote about how a town pattern book is a “costly half-step” while she spelled out her own plans for exchanging these preparations for action’s sake.
In short, I respectfully disagree. If the decades-long debacle at EPCAL has taught us anything, it’s that haste makes waste. Even an ounce of inquiry would have stopped the geniuses that once thought a ski mountain was a good use of the former Grumman property. (A ski mountain? We’re on a tiny little island.)
To both capture new business and cultivate an air of “Main Street Americana” is a delicate procedure. Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith and the town board deserve praise for seeking professional consultation. Sure it may cost $175,000; but are the people of our town really going to bash our town’s decadence for spending $175,000 on ensuring the job’s done right, while our school district pursues a multi-million dollar capital construction project arising from unanticipated, pressing needs?
For what it’s worth, knocking down abandoned properties like the old Swezey’s building might help. It’s no secret that I would like to see the Peconic Waterfront parking lot turned into a park that evokes Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City. That said, knocking properties down might not help either. Turning those lots into, say, plazas or playgrounds, might not afford the kind of social infrastructure downtown requires. It might be that converting those lots into, say, a municipal movie theater or a branch library, is the superior choice.
This is all to say: we wouldn’t know for certain until we have the kind of professional, evidence-based research that would come from a pattern book and similar civil studies.
Given that Ms. Aguiar also supports more off-site street parking, even though a recent town parking study shows “the overall utilization rate of the downtown area did not exceed 58 percent,” I do have my reservations that her bold approach might be the incorrect one in this case.
The same is true of the long overdue master plan: the longer we wait, the more expensive a revision will cost. Are we going to wait until global warming puts everything south of Sound Avenue six feet beneath Peconic Bay before we finally amend it? (Granted, then the plan would cost $0 to revise, but that’s because there wouldn’t be a town to plan.)
Ms. Aguiar did raise some quality ideas in her piece. Eliminating occupancy caps and reassessing the zoning around Railroad Avenue are both things that our town should pursue. Occupancy caps artificially restrict housing supply, which unduly raise rents. The area around the Riverhead train station has the potential to become a thriving intermodal hub, and yet is hindered from doing so due to current zoning protocol, insufficient upkeep, and general blight. Rezoning the area for mixed-use, similar to the Farmingdale Plaza apartments up-island, might be a good act to follow. If that’s what she has in mind, then I enthusiastically agree.
That said, those ideas are not mutually exclusive with pursuing a pattern book, or the other kinds of proper documentation needed before committing to major decisions. Viewing broad appeal as good decision making’s opposite misrepresents the situation that our town faces. The stark truth is that we are an aging town, designed for a time of car worship and mega-chain retail, both of which now trend towards obsolescence. These are complicated circumstances, they require expert guidance, and—whatever the cost—we should welcome that guidance.
Research is not antithetical to good decision-making, but its source. When it comes to information-gathering, Riverhead can stand to spare no expense.
John Fallot is a product designer and visual designer based in both Riverhead and Brooklyn.
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