Residents at a February 2020 community forum focused on the downtown Riverhead pattern book. File photo: Denise Civiletti

It’s back to the drawing board for proposed zoning amendments that would implement the design guidelines of the downtown pattern book.

After the Riverhead Business Advisory Committee objected to the sustainability goals and design requirements for new development, town board members said yesterday they will not move forward on the proposed code amendments that were the subject of a May 3 public hearing. The public hearing record was left open for written comments until 4:30 p.m. today.

Councilman Bob Kern, the town board liaison to the Business Advisory Committee said during yesterday’s work session he wants to table resolutions adopting the proposed amendments after listening the concerns of the committee, which were summarized in an email to the town board by committee chairperson Martin Sendlewski.  

Sendlewski’s email lists the committee’s numerous concerns and objections to the code revision proposal, which largely repeat concerns Sendlewski expressed during the public hearing last week. Among them:

  • Eliminate the 40% green roof mandate, which the committee said would raise building costs. Instead the and green-roof goal should be incentive-based: add 50% of a fifth floor in exchange for a 40% green roof;
  • Eliminate the net zero energy standard. “This is expensive and would be a burden for many projects. We encourage energy standards but again would recommend incentives for them (such as fifth floor),” Sendlewski wrote.
  • Maintain 80% lot coverage. The proposed code would allow 100% lot coverage, while reducing the maximum building height to four stories from the present five stories and requiring a 45-degree step-back on the fourth floor. One hundred percent lot coverage “does not allow for many of the public-private (sidewalk seating etc.) that the guidelines strive for,” Sendlewski wrote. The current maximum of 80% lot coverage should be retained and the town should “require the use of rain gardens for more greenery to soften the street scape. This is a better application of storm water mitigation than a green roof,” Sendlewski wrote.

The design requirements of the code are “mostly subjective in nature” and should be guidelines rather than requirements, he wrote. These subjective standards are hard to define and would limit “creative design” of buildings that would be well-suited for downtown, Sendlewski wrote. The committee advocates eliminating them as requirements, he said.

“As a result of our review we have, by unanimous majority vote of a quorum present, identified many areas of the proposed revisions which are problematic and will present a detriment to businesses and property owners within the DC-1 zone,” Sendlewski wrote.

The proposed code amendments would implement the design standards and guidelines of the downtown pattern book, advanced by the Riverhead Downtown Revitalization Committee and prepared by Urban Design Associates, after significant community input obtained through meetings and online tools including two surveys and an interactive map.

The Business Advisory Committee would like to meet with the Downtown Revitalization Committee and Barry Long, who led the pattern book project for Urban Design Associates, Sendlewski wrote.

Kern, a member and chairperson of the Business Advisory Committee prior to his election to the town board last year, said at yesterday’s work session he had already spoken to Community Development Director Dawn Thomas who said “she would make that happen.”

Downtown Revitalization Committee co-chair James Farley declined comment yesterday.

The pattern book, commissioned by the town board in August 2019, was adopted by the town board on Jan. 20, 2021. It includes recommendations for size, scale and character of future development downtown.

The code revisions now before the town board would implement the pattern book’s design standards and guidelines by: limiting building height to four stories or 50 feet tall (from the current maximum of five stories or 60 feet tall); reducing floor-area ratio, which determines the developable area of a property; and requiring certain architectural design elements. Projects already under review prior to the adoption of the pattern book would be exempt from the new requirements.

Vocal residents who helped develop the pattern book, including former Councilwoman Catherine Kent, urged the board to adopt the code proposal “as is” during the public hearing. 

See prior coverage: Vocal residents ask board to adopt pattern book code; new parking code needs more work, committee members say

Resolutions adopting the proposed code revisions were in the packet of measures reviewed by the board yesterday for a possible vote at its next regular meeting on Wednesday May 18.

“I think you’re getting a consensus that most of us are not happy the way things are written,” Councilman Ken Rothwell said at the work session.

“So I think that we just need to go back to the table, strike out the things that we want, rewrite them, set up a new public hearing and to reissue it with some of the corrections,” Rothwell said. “I personally feel that our local downtown businesses don’t have to grow grass on their roof. I think we’ve gotten a little too far, you know, on the green side of things for me.”

Hubbard and former Councilwoman Jodi Giglio voted against developing a pattern book for downtown development, an idea brought to the board by the Downtown Revitalization Committee and advocated by Kent, who served as liaison to the committee. Both said they thought it was an unnecessary and expensive endeavor. The board voted 3-2 to authorize the project.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, in her 2019 campaign to unseat then-incumbent Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, who supported the pattern book, criticized the administration’s $175,000 investment in the pattern book project, which she said was an unnecessary “half step” that would only delay progress downtown.

Both Aguiar and Hubbard joined Kent, Rothwell and Councilman Frank Beyrodt to adopt the pattern book in January 2021.

In February 2021, the Business Advisory Committee, then chaired by Kern, raised the same objections to lot coverage and favored an incentive-based system for many aspects of the pattern book, including floor area ratio and the four-story, 50-feet limit.

The board agreed yesterday to delay voting on the proposed code revisions pending further discussion at a future work session.

If the proposed code amendments are significantly revised, the town board would have to hold another public hearing before adoption.

The survival of local journalism depends on your support.
We are a small family-owned operation. You rely on us to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Just a few dollars can help us continue to bring this important service to our community.
Support RiverheadLOCAL today.