New treatment centers and convenience stores are now prohibited in a downtown overlay zoning district adopted by the Town Board last week. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Legislation aimed at downtown revitalization moved forward last week in Riverhead Town Hall with the adoption of the “Downtown Riverfront Overlay District” and public hearings on amendments to the town’s existing “Zero Tolerance Zone,” “Alcoholic Beverages” and “Loitering” codes.

Residents, business owners and the representatives of the Riverhead BID Management Association spoke in support of the initiatives, which are intended to promote downtown revitalization by stepped-up enforcement of designated “quality of life” offenses and by implementing additional land use rules in the downtown business district.

The Town Board adopted the new overlay district at Wednesday night’s meeting in a unanimous vote.

The overlay district takes in much of the downtown central business district. It prohibits certain land uses that are otherwise allowed in the underlying zoning districts, including: smoke shops and tobacco stores, as well as those that sell smoke/vape paraphernalia; adult entertainment establishments; hospitals, surgical centers, rehabilitation facilities, clinics, urgent care centers, drug treatment centers, convalescent and rest homes; pawnshops; convenience stores, with or without fuel stations; automobile service stations and repair shops, with or without fuel centers; car wash facilities; laundromats; storage yards; residential group homes, nontransient hotels and motels, congregate living facilities, dormitories, convents, vacation timeshare properties and boarding houses. Also prohibited in the overlay district is the public display of firearms, knives, and weapons, though gun shops are not on the list of banned uses. The prohibitions will not affect the continued operation of pre-existing nonconforming uses.

The aim is to encourage uses that will “activate” the downtown district and appeal to residents in and visitors to the area.

Someone visiting the aquarium, for instance, and walking along Main Street will be drawn to a restaurant or coffee shop on Main Street, Community Development Director Dawn Thomas explained in a recent interview. People who need the services provided by other types of uses, such as laundromats or treatment centers, will seek those uses out wherever they are located, she said.

The board held public hearings on companion legislation Wednesday night. The “Zero Tolerance Zone” code amendments would expand the existing area of the zone beyond the boundaries of the Business Improvement District to take in all of the new overlay district. The amendments also make certain acts and activities unlawful in the “Zero Tolerance Zone.”

The amended code would ban sitting and lying on any public sidewalk, or any object not “designed primarily for the purpose of sitting.” It would also ban sitting or lying in any building entrance/exit or vestibule, or lying or sleeping on benches in public parks.

The code would also ban “aggressive panhandling,” which includes intentionally engaging in “conduct that would likely intimidate a reasonable person,” such as touching, following and persistently soliciting anything of value after being refused either verbally or nonverbally, and using violent or threatening language or gestures to induce someone to give something of value to the solicitor.

The code would also make it a violation to rummage through garbage or trash, or remove coins from a water fountain.

Smoking or vaping would also be prohibited in the zero tolerance zone.

Other violations added to the code include acts that are already crimes listed in the New York State Penal Law: loitering for the purpose of engaging in drug-related and/or prostitution-related activity, and lewd acts.

The proposed amendment to the “Alcoholic Beverages” code takes aim at people who consume alcohol in public places or possess an open alcohol container in a public place. Both are currently prohibited by the town’s “Alcoholic Beverages” code. The amendment would increase penalties for second and subsequent convictions for violations. The current code carries a penalty of up to $250 and/or imprisonment of up to 15 days. The amendments would increase the maximum fine to $350 for a second conviction. It would also make any third or subsequent conviction a class B misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $500 and/or imprisonment of up to 90 days.

The proposed amendment to the “Loitering” code would change its title to “Loitering and Obscene Public Conduct.” The code currently prohibits public urination, that is urinating in any public place other than within a restroom facility. The proposed amendment would also prohibit “public defecation,” described as defecating in any public place other than within a restroom facility. The amendment would add imprisonment of up to 15 days to the $250 maximum fine currently provided for conviction of any offense of the “Loitering” code. It wold also make violation of the provisions relating to public urination and public defecation punishable by a minimum fine of $250 and a maximum fine of $1,000, and/or incarceration of up to 15 days.

The goal of the code amendments, like that of the overlay district, is “moving downtown into a more family-friendly environment and curbing …some of the behavior that’s inconsistent with what the community wants and deserves,” Thomas said during the “Zero Tolerance” code Wednesday night.

Riverhead resident and downtown business owner Marc LaMaina said the new policies are “imperative for the revitalization of downtown Riverhead.” He said there’s a “strong presence of business owners that are ready to push forward and make downtown revitalization happen.” LaMaina urged the Town Board to act.

“If everybody’s on board, and we put politics aside, I think that it can happen in the next 24 months,” LaMaina said.

East Main Street resident Garrett Moore also urged passage of the legislation.

“Those list of issues that you read off, I’ve had to experience nearly all of them on my front yard over the past couple of years,” Moore said. “So I definitely support this going forward. I’m trying to raise my family here. I’m a teacher in town. So I’m definitely looking forward to better futures and hoping to make improvements downtown,” he said.

Riverhead BID Management Association Executive Director Kristy Verity said the organization and the business owners, property owners and residents it represents support the creation of the overlay district and the “Zero Tolerance” code amendments.

Ike Israel, a real estate broker with Richmond Realty and a principal in businesses that own properties downtown, also expressed support for the new legislation.

“Everyone that I’ve talked to really does want to see some change in downtown and agrees that they need help,” Israel said. “We’ve got to just toughen up a little bit and try to help our downtown businesses,” he said. “We need a lot of support from our community to keep all of our businesses downtown.”

Council Member Tim Hubbard said the new legislation is “all about quality of life and making our downtown a family-friendly atmosphere. “We’re investing in a lot of money down there. For downtown to be successful, these things have to be done,” Hubbard said. “We have to be able to clean up the downtown once and for all.”

Council Member Ken Rothwell said the legislation is “great” and he’s “looking forward to working with our police department for strong enforcement.”

The hearing records for the “Zero Tolerance,” “Alcoholic Beverages” and “Loitering” code amendments were left open for written comments until close of business on March 31.

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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.