A proposal to build a new gas station and convenience store on the Riverside roundabout met with skepticism from Southampton Planning Board members last week and faces stiff opposition from the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association.
The owner of the site, a former Getty gas station on the roundabout between Riverleigh Avenue and Flanders Road, is seeking approval to construct a 7-Eleven gas station and 3,000-square-foot convenience store. The gas station would have six pumps for a total of 12 fueling stations. The site would have points of access on both Riverleigh Avenue and Flanders Road.
The plan will require multiple approvals from the town, including a special exception for the gas station use in the Highway Business Zoning Use District, a site plan approval and variances from zoning code setback requirements. A convenience store is allowed as an accessory use to a gas station.
The applicant’s representatives met with the planning board at its work session Thursday to make an initial presentation. They will have a presubmission conference with the planning board on March 25, when the board will also hear public comments.
They’re likely to get an earful.
“We plan as FRNCA to mount a campaign with the planning board, and ultimately with the town board, to block this development in this key, key location,” Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association president Vince Taldone said in an interview today.
“This is really damaging to the overall plan, it’s not just inconsistent,” Taldone said, referring to the land use plan developed for Riverside by Southampton Town several years ago.
The Riverside plan was implemented by an adopted a zoning overlay district that allows increased density on Flanders Road south of the roundabout.
“Imagine a line of buildings going around the curve and up Flanders Road, with sidewalk tables and chairs or planters — just a more comfortable place for people to walk along and visit at ground-floor shops of the larger buildings,” Taldone said. “And that’s the location where the density goes, right in that immediate area along Flinders Road, right off the traffic circle,” he said.
A new gas station and convenience store doesn’t fit that vision. But with an overlay zone, the existing zoning isn’t changed — and on this site, it remains Highway Business, where the allowed uses don’t necessarily “fit” with the Riverside plan’s vision.
According to Taldone, “it’s worse than just not fitting into or not being consistent with the vision of the overlay district. It really impedes it. The worst thing possible for that location is a use that has lots of cars coming and going, right next to the traffic circle and right where most pedestrians — you know, someday, when, when it’s all done — will be moving from downtown Riverhead to Riverside and back.”
The Riverside Overlay District was adopted by the town board in December 2015 with the goal of revitalizing “the most ignored, underserved, voiceless community on Long Island,” according to the Riverside Revitalization Action Plan.
The plan, more than a year in the making, was the work product of a master developer hired by the town, Renaissance Downtowns.
The zoning overlay map was intended to create “a mixed-use and walkable gateway center to enhance the vibrancy of the Riverside Hamlet Center and create a diversity of uses,” according to the plan, including housing. The most dense uses are allowed within a quarter-mile of the Route 24 roundabout. The overlay district is optional, with bonuses and incentives provided to landowners who opt in. To opt in to the overlay zone, a minimum lot size of 7,500 sq. ft. is required.
But for the plan to come to fruition, the area must have access to a wastewater treatment plant.
“The idea of sewers has been talked about for the better part of a decade,” the developer’s attorney, Keith Brown, said at the planning board meeting Thursday. “But there’s no hope for sewers any time soon.”
The town has been working toward providing the wastewater treatment plant, Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said today.
“The town’s been putting the pieces together,” Schneiderman said. It has purchased land or is in the process of purchasing land for the plant and for the wetlands that will be part of the sewage effluent treatment system, he said.
“The problem has been the cost of the construction and trying to piece together the money to build it,” Schneiderman said. “That’s been, I think, the biggest challenge,” he said. The town is now looking at “shrinking it a little bit and doing this in stages, so we’re not building a $50 million plant, but maybe a $30 million plant.”
The town would look to build the plant out in phases, he said, to handle development as it gets built.
Schneiderman said while the town was originally looking at having a private entity build and operate it, he now believes it will be a municipal plant operated by the county, which has a lot of experience operating such facilities, he said.
“I’d like to see development around the circle, across from McDonald’s, where you have boarded-up building after boarded-up building,” Schneiderman said. “That’s a critical gateway there, where we envision three-story buildings, with shops and restaurants on the ground level and apartments above.”
That stretch of land is “a real eyesore,” the supervisor said.
“It would be unfortunate if we lose that spot,” he said of the site where the 7-Eleven is proposed.
“Obviously, I’m not happy with the pace [of redevelopment],” Schneiderman said.
“Some things have happened,” Schneiderman said. “The Riverside roundabout was redone and then that the building that was built on the circle — I think that came out really well,” he said, referring to a mixed-use building on the circle, where a long-shuttered diner once stood. But that project, the first development to take place under the new overlay zone, can’t be fully built out and occupied until it can connect to a sewage treatment plant.
“I think there’s some movement where Peconic Paddler is but that could connect directly to the Riverhead Sewer District,” Schneiderman said.
Southampton Deputy Supervisor Frank Zappone and developers approached the Riverhead Town Board in 2018 about a temporary connection for a four-and-a-half story boutique hotel with 100 guest rooms and a rooftop restaurant on the Peconic Paddler site just south of the river on Peconic Avenue. Their pitch got a lukewarm reception. The out-of-district hookup has not been publicly discussed by the Riverhead Town Board since.
Meanwhile, as long as development under the overlay zone is on hold because there’s no sewage treatment plant hookup available, the only rules in play are those in the existing zoning code — which could allow the new gas station and convenience store.
Those new uses on the roundabout would be “devastating,” Taldone said. “It’s really, really damaging to the overall plan.”
The planning board approved the revitalization plan and understands the vision, Taldone said. But if necessary, the community will ask the town board to impose “a moratorium on particular uses like gas stations or convenience stores in that critical area of the walkable downtown,” he said.
“On the other hand, I have to say we’re really sympathetic to the owners who’ve been sitting on this for years with the town saying, ‘we’re going to do something,’ and they haven’t done it,” Taldone said.
The town hasn’t moved the sewer district forward in over a year, Taldone lamented. The residents are just as frustrated as the commercial property owners, he said.
“I’ve been at this more than a decade too,” Taldone said, noting that some of the community volunteers who were working on the revitalization effort early on have walked away, discouraged by the lack of progress.
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