Railroad Avenue in August 2014. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Multi-story mixed use buildings are now permitted in a new overlay district in the area around Railroad Avenue, following the adopting of a new zoning code article by the town board last week.

The new Railroad Avenue Urban Renewal Area Overlay District is intended to spur redevelopment of the area — previously designated as an urban renewal area — in a way that maintains “a traditional downtown character to complement the character of Main Street.”

Blighted conditions still exist in the area, which faces “unique obstacles” that have deterred redevelopment there, as documented in the 1990 Urban Renewal Plan, the 2003 comprehensive plan and the 2015 Brownfield Opportunity Area Step II Nomination Study, according to the new code.

The overlay district is located in the DC-3 zoning use district, which was adopted as a result of the 2003 comprehensive plan. But the DC-3 district did not result in significant investment in the area, the new code says.

The overlay provides additional development options and increased densities on eligible sites if the developer opts to take advantage of it.

The code allows building heights of up to 50 feet on properties 20,000 square feet to 60,000 square feet in size, with 60% lot coverage. It allows building heights of up to 60 feet on properties bigger than 60,000 square feet in size, with 80% lot coverage.

Under certain circumstances, some buildings are allowed a maximum height of 75 feet, at the discretion of the town board. Buildings eligible for the increased height are mixed-use buildings that include an “arts use” such as “museum or performing arts or similar” on the ground floor. The new code limits the maximum height to that which is less than that considered a “high-rise” building under the New York State Building Code, which defines a high-rise building as one having “an occupied floor of more than 75 feet above the lowest level of fire department vehicle access.”

Property owners may further increase density by providing certain community benefits: shared parking for complementary uses; purchase of land along the Peconic River for passive park use; purchase of transfer of development rights credits; implementation of green infrastructure (rain gardens) on- or off-site; and other features such as a green roof.

The code requires developers of residential units to provide off-street parking for dwellings, calculated according to the size and number of residential units.

The overlay district allows new as-of-right uses that are not permitted as-of-right in the DC-3 district: marketplaces, including farmers market or food hall; brew pubs and microbreweries; live-work spaces; and mixed-use buildings with apartments and mixed uses on the upper floors. Other uses permitted as-of-right in the overlay district are permitted in the DC-3 district by special permit of the town board: hotels, taverns and indoor recreation facilities. Some uses allowed in the DC-3 district are not permitted as-of-right or by special permit in the overlay: places of worship, funeral homes and town houses.

The Railroad Avenue Overlay District was adopted Jan. 5, 2021.

The overlay stretches from Roanoke Avenue on the east to Sweezy Avenue on the west. It is, for the most part, bounded on the south by West Main Street and on the north by Lincoln Street (and the railroad tracks west of Osborn.)

The town board in October classified the code adoption as a Type I action under the State Environmental Quality Review Act.

A public hearing was held on the proposed overlay district on Nov. 17.

Last Tuesday, the board determined the overlay district is anticipated to have no no significant adverse environmental impacts and adopted a negative declaration, meaning the board would not require an environmental impact study, and adopted the new district.

The board voted unanimously 4-0 to adopt the new code at the Jan. 5 meeting.

“This is great for the Railroad Avenue area where they’re looking to get some assistance,” Councilman Tim Hubbard said. “And it’s based on the traffic oriented plan —transit oriented plan — that they’re going to be able to re-do, rebuild, and get money from the state to help make this happen, which is an area that desperately needs it,” he said.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar agreed. “I also want to state that this is part of the transit oriented development, and this is something that we needed,” Aguiar said.

“People have been placing interest in that area, and now we have some guidance with the plan to move that area forward. And hopefully soon, and we have had interest and we have seen plans and our Community Development Agency is working and they actually are responsible for this document,” Aguiar said. “We want to thank them for their work and and telling us — knowing that we needed this to move that area forward. And thank you, our CDA.”

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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.