What do you think of when you think of downtown Riverhead? Consulting staff makes a list from public comments at the DRI public participation session March 22. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The first pair of in-person meetings of the committee tasked with developing a strategic plan for Riverhead’s $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant took place yesterday in Riverhead Town Hall.

The Local Planning Committee, established by the state, met for two hours with state representatives and state-contracted consultants. Then the committee, state representatives and consultants held a two-hour public participation session at Town Hall in the evening.

Through development of the strategic plan, the LPC will make recommendations to the state on how the $10 million grant should best be spent.

“The DRI process is really fast-paced — five to six months —and at the end of it, it delivers a strategic investment plan consisting of four major components,” Jeannette Rausch, the N.Y. Department of State official who oversees the DRI program for New York City and Long Island, said during the public participation session Monday evening. “Our goal is not to reinvent the wheel or to repeat work that you already did, though some of it may feel repetitive, but rather to build on the work that you have done to date and fill any gaps,” Rausch said.

The four components of the strategic investment plan are:

  • Profile of the downtown – pull together past plans, identify major trends, key assets and challenges.
  • Vision for downtown’s future – refining and building on what was included in the town’s grant application.
  • Strategy and methods to achieve the downtown vision.
  • Key projects to the overall revitalization of downtown.

The committee just issued an open call for proposals for private and institutional projects seeking DRI grant funding. The $10 million DRI grant can be used to fund private and institutional “capital projects that have the potential to increase economic vitality and growth in downtown Riverhead, including projects that improve access to quality housing at an affordable price, support job growth and job access, enhance existing public open space, and provide new spaces for cultural activities,” according to the RiverheadDRI website. See details and submission requirements here. The deadline for submissions is April 20. The deadline for questions is April 13.

The $10 million DRI grant can be used to fund capital projects that have the potential to increase economic vitality and growth in downtown Riverhead, including projects that improve access to quality housing at an affordable price, support job growth and job access, enhance existing public open space, and provide new spaces for cultural activities. It cannot be used for expenditures made prior to the grant award and it cannot be used for property acquisition. More information is provided in the state’s DRI guidebook.

The study area for the strategic plan is central downtown Riverhead, stretching from Osborn Avenue on the west to Howell Avenue on the east, encompassing the area north of the river to the railroad tracks. It also takes in an irregularly shaped area along East Main Street north of the tracks and east of Riverside Drive. See study area map.

Eric Fang, principal at Perkins Eastman, a national planning and design firm with offices in Manhattan, leads a multidisciplinary team of consultants for the Riverhead DRI project, addressing economic development, engineering, traffic, landscape design, community engagement and cost estimating.

The first public participation meeting, held March 22 at Riverhead Town Hall. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The study area features “all the really terrific assortment of attractions, entertainment, culture,” Fang said at Monday night’s public participation meeting, where he led a presentation and public input session.

“It’s got the river. It’s got the train. It’s got Main Street. It’s got the history,” Fang said. “And we really feel like it’s got great bones. It’s got all the assets that, you know, any downtown can really take use to take off,” he said.

“Our focus here again is to really make sure that we can kind of connect all these dots, make sure that the state’s funding can go to the right combination of catalytic projects that can really kind of propel the downtown into the next era of its revitalization,” Fang said.

To develop the refined vision and goals for downtown, Fang and other members of the consulting team asked both the committee members and the public to answer several questions.

Riverhead’s DRI application set forth several goals, Fang said. He listed them as:

  • a vibrant and compact walkable, dynamic neighborhood oriented along the Peconic River;
  • a regional destination and gateway to the north and south forks;
  • a diverse community welcoming of all ages, races and demographics;
  • a new recreational/cultural hub on Long Island’s East End;
  • a central location for workers, families and visitors to live work and play.

Fang asked those in attendance Monday night, both in-person and via Zoom, to answer a series of questions:

(1) What do you think when you think of downtown Riverhead?

(2) What do you see as downtown’s strongest attributes?

(3) What do you see as the role of downtown? How do you see the role of downtown within the larger town? How do you see the role of the downtown within the larger region?

(4) Who do you feel downtown is currently serving well? Are there people who aren’t being served well by downtown currently, or aren’t being served at all?

(5) What’s missing from the downtown that could help you thrive? If you have a business, if you’re just if you feel that the downtown’s kind of a success is tied to the success of a greater town. If you live downtown, what could be added to the downtown or improved or tweaked that could help you thrive?

People at the public participation session were asked to put their responses down on index cards color-coded to the questions.

James Foster, co-owner of Sweet Tart Frozen Yogurt on East Main Street said downtown Riverhead is safe and people have the wrong perception. “This is not 1994,” he said. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Recurring themes among the responses were downtown’s unfulfilled potential, safety concerns, the perception of downtown as a high-crime area, poorly lit streets, sidewalks and alleys, flooding along the river, perceived lack of parking, the need for more and better affordable housing, access to the river, activities for families, events, the town square, the need for more unique and diverse offerings in shops, restaurants, activities and events, the need for public transit around the downtown area.

East Main Street residents Garrett and Amanda Moore said they have safety concerns and wanted a stronger police presence in the area where they live, just east of Jerry & the Mermaid restaurant.

Garrett Moore said police call him “on a regular basis to see what’s on my security cameras.” He said people walk around going through cars looking for change. “I can be raking in the front yard and they’re asking you for money,” Moore said. “That happens to us every day,” he said. Amanda Moore said she does not feel comfortable allowing their 12-year-old son to walk to the mailbox a few blocks west on Main Street.

James Foster, who with his wife Miyoshi Cambra owns Sweet Tart Frozen Yogurt on East Main Street, just off Roanoke Avenue, disputed the residents’ perceptions of crime downtown. “It is safe downtown,” Foster said, adding that he is comfortable having his kids play outside his shop.

“It’s a narrative that we’ve really got to work on, to get that notion out of people’s heads. That perception is 1994,” Foster said. “This is 2022. You will see nothing but people enjoying restaurants. There’s no problem downtown,” he said. “Do you have incidents? Of course. Every town has incidents,” he said, including Patchogue and Greenport. But overall safety? It is safe. I trust my kids there. You can trust your kids there,” Foster said.

The DRI’s local planning committee during its first in-person meeting March 22 at Riverhead Town Hall. Photo: Alek Lewis

Committee members went through a similar, though less structured, process at their afternoon meeting, guided by Fang in a discussion of goals and visions for the future.

The Local Planning Committee is co-chaired by Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar and Long Island Regional Economic Development Council member David Kapell, former mayor of the Village of Greenport. It has 15 other members, according to a list posted this week on the RiverheadDRI.com website. They are: Resi Cooper, NYS Regional Economic Development Council; Kira Atkins, Vail-Leavitt Music Hall; Shirley Coverdale, Family Community Life Center; Brian DeLuca, East End Tourism Alliance; James Farley, Downtown Revitalization Committee; Josephine Hines, Riverhead resident; Ike Israel, Richmond Realty; Kerrie McMullen-Smith, Riverhead Free Library; Andrew Mitchell, Peconic Bay Medical Center; Lisa Pickersgill, Robert James Salon; Felicia Scocozza, Riverhead Community Awareness Program; Steven Shauger, Hyatt Place East End/Preston House and Riverhead Business Improvement District; Sister Margaret Smyth, North Fork Spanish Apostolate; Edna White, Greater Gordon Heights, artist; Richard Wines, Riverhead Landmarks Preservation Committee.

“This is an exciting moment in Riverhead, to see such a turnout here, such a representative turnout,” Aguiar said at the start of the LPC’s afternoon meeting. “We have members, many of the segments of our community. It’s important that you are part of this. This is an open process,” she said.

“We’re going to put in a lot hours, and we’re going to gather a lot of knowledge and a lot of input and we’re going to put it all together and Riverhead is going to continue moving forward.”

Local Planning Committee co-chairs Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, left, and L.I. Regional Economic Development Council Dave Kapell, listen to committee member Josephine Hines at the LPC meeting March 22. Photo: Alek Lewis

The LPC will be meeting monthly, alternating between in-person and via Zoom. Additionally public participation sessions will be held every other month, with the goal of finalizing by July a strategic plan for the best use of the state grant funds.

All meetings are open to the public, both in-person and via Zoom. They will also be carried live on the town’s government access channel on Optimum cable television and live-streamed on the town’s website, where they will be available on demand after the meetings. Video recordings of the meetings will also be posted on the RiverheadDRI.com website, which has been launched by the state to keep the public informed.

The next LPC meeting will be held virtually April 27 from 9 to 11 a.m. It will be followed by an in-person meeting at 3 p.m. on May 23, when the next public participation session will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. The LPC will meet again virtually on June 22 and then in-person on July 11, followed by a public participation meeting that evening. Meeting updates, Zoom links and meeting videos will be posted on the RiverheadDRI website “events” page.

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