View of new apartment buildings from Grangebel Park. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Strike up a conversation with almost anyone in Riverhead and they will share strong opinions about our downtown area. This Thursday night, all those opinions will have the chance to be shared and heard. 

Downtown areas are the heart and soul of any city or region as well as a strong indicator of local social and economic trends, a center where people from all hamlets can congregate and have shared experiences. Given the close connection people have to their downtown, it’s no surprise that we have strong opinions.  

As in any area, Riverhead’s downtown has strengths and weaknesses. While it is critical that we address concerns such as flooding, safety, parking, empty stores and boarded-up buildings, it is equally important that we celebrate and highlight our strengths. 

With our location at the start of both the South and North Forks, we are the gateway to the beauty of the East End.  Built on the Peconic River, our Main Street is blessed with scenic vistas spanning for miles. Historic buildings add to the hometown feel, while the East End Arts property, Suffolk Theater and Vail-Leavitt Music Hall are a cultural presence. We must strike the proper balance in order to effectively breathe life into our downtown area without losing our rural, historic charm.

The Town of Riverhead made a bold move this year, by retaining a company to help steer revitalization efforts. Urban Design Associates is a worldwide company of urban planners, architects and designers skilled at listening to communities and helping all reach consensus.  They use a three-step approach of community outreach, development strategies and implementation strategies. The final product of their work will be design guidelines in the form of a pattern book that illustrates the community patterns and building forms necessary to ensure that redevelopment is consistent with the needs and desires of our community. Such guidelines will help the town and developers move projects in a way that is mutually beneficial.

As part of their first step in this process, UDA has been reading previous studies, looking at surrounding communities and meeting with stakeholders and residents. The participation from our community has been stellar with over 100 participants at the first public forum and over 1,000 people (so far) completing the online survey. 

In order to keep this momentum going, all residents are urged to attend the second public forum to be held Thursday evening at the Senior Center at 60 Shade Tree Lane starting at 6:30 p.m. After a recap of feedback gathered thus far, UDA will share preliminary designs and allow for more public comments. Participation in the online survey is also vital and it will be on the town website until Friday. Click here to access the survey.

Be part of the solution and let your voice be heard. Working together, we can make sure that our families will be able to enjoy downtown Riverhead for generations to come.

Catherine Kent is town councilwoman. She lives in Baiting Hollow.

Editor’s note: The “In My Opinion” column is open to anyone who wants to submit a viewpoint on any topic. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the point of view of RiverheadLOCAL’s publishers. We welcome submissions. Be sure to include your email address and daytime phone number. Click here to submit your opinion.

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