Councilwoman Catherine Kent speaking at a press conference yesterday called to urge town residents to participate in a community forum on downtown design set for Thursday evening. She is flanked by Supervisor Jens-Smith, left, and Downtown Revitalization Committee co-chair Janice Scherer. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Please, please, please come to the community forum on downtown design Thursday evening.

That was the message from some town officials, who so badly want residents interested in the future of downtown to attend the forum and voice their opinions that they held a press conference at town hall yesterday to make the ask.

The forum will take place at 6:30 p.m. at the Riverhead Human Resource/Senior Center, 60 Shade Tree Lane in
Aquebogue.

Planning consultants Urban Design Associates will conduct the forum. It will begin with a brief presentation by the planners, then the attendees will split into small break-out groups so the planners can hear what residents have to say, Councilwoman Catherine Kent said.

“UDA brings with them urban planners, architects, and designers. They are skilled at listening to communities and helping all reach consensus as to how we want our downtown to look,” Kent said.

The planning firm was hired by the town board in August to develop a pattern book for downtown.

Riverhead building and planning administrator Jefferson Murphree points to the pattern book study area on a map of downtown during yesterday’s press conference. Photo: Denise Civiletti

A pattern book presents graphical depictions of buildings, street layouts, architectural patterns, landscapes and public spaces that can be developed under an adopted zoning code.

The point is to guide downtown redevelopment cohesively, to understand how sites and buildings relate to each other, said Riverhead Downtown Revitalization Committee co-chair Janice Scherer. Currently, the process is developer-driven, she said.

“It’s better to design in rational proportion and work backwards from the things that you want,” said Scherer, who is a planner by profession. “The idea here is to come and see what is being projected as what’s a rational development scheme and to pattern it to the satisfaction of everybody. So that’s why we want everyone to come,” she said.

“It’s like the town taking charge of being the master developer,” Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said. It allows the town to guide development proactively pursuant to a an area-wide plan, rather than being reactive to proposals, she said.

A pattern book also allows people to actually see what the development will look like, the supervisor said.

The Downtown Revitalization Committee recommended that the town board hire a firm to create a pattern book. The town board issued a request for proposals and subsequently hired Pittsburgh-based Urban Design Consultants.

The full town board did not support hiring Urban Design Associates to develop a pattern book at a cost of $174,530. Councilman James Wooten joined Jens-Smith and Kent to hire the firm over the objection of council members Jodi Giglio and Tim Hubbard.

The pattern book became a campaign issue, with Hubbard derisively calling it “a coloring book” and Republican supervisor candidate Yvette Aguiar, who defeated Jens-Smith in the Nov. 5 general election, arguing it was too expensive and an unnecessary half-step.

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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.