Local commercial developer Richard Israel urged the Riverhead Town Board not to expand uses allowed in the manufacturers outlet zoning district, which he said would hurt other businesses on Route 58 and in downtown. Photo: Alek Lewis

Expanding the types of businesses allowed at Tanger Outlets will disrupt Riverhead’s commercial economy, a prominent local real estate developer told  the Town Board during a public hearing Wednesday night.

Richard Israel, a commercial developer and the owner of the Riverhead-based Richmond Realty Corp., warned that proposed changes to the Manufacturers Outlet Center zoning would “be taking away the competitive edge” of other commercial properties on the rest of the Route 58 corridor and hurt downtown Riverhead.

“As you start to allow Tanger, who has a tremendous draw, to have a Trader Joe’s in there, to have recreational entertainment there and the like,” Israel said, “you’re going to be drawing away from what we’re hoping is going to happen to our downtown, what we know we can use along the Route 58 corridor…

“If you put a sit-down [restaurant] venue within Tanger, you’ve destroyed your town,” Israel said. 

The proposed zoning amendment would allow the outlet center to replace a food court with one sit-down restaurant and specialty food markets — like the popular Eataly marketplace chain. A new restaurant could have up to 25 dining tables for each food or beverage counter in an existing food court. 

The change would both “dry up” restaurants along Route 58 and steal patrons from restaurants in downtown Riverhead, Israel said.

Israel was one of only a few people who commented on the proposed code changes. The amendments  would allow general retail stores, specialty markets, restaurants, furniture showrooms and certain indoor and outdoor recreation businesses in a manufacturers outlet center. Town officials say increased “flexibility” for the sprawling outlet center at the terminus of the Long Island Expressway is necessary for the outlet center to remain viable in a changing retail economy.

MORE COVERAGE: Riverhead seeks to amend outlet center zoning to expand allowed uses beyond outlet stores

Tanger Outlets was built in 1994, more than a decade before the town adopted the “destination retail” zoning on western Route 58 that paved the way for “big box” retail development in the corridor. The Town Board in 1992 had enacted a new zoning overlay district to allow manufacturers outlet centers in Riverhead Town. An overlay district is a “floating” zone that can be applied to land that meets criteria spelled out in the code. The manufacturers outlet zoning overlay district was subsequently applied to the property that would become Tanger Outlets, as well as a much smaller site situated adjacent to Tanger that was recently approved for outlet center development.

The overlay district was a much-discussed proposal that drew dozens of speakers to a public hearing that spanned two Town Board meetings in June and September 1992. It was opposed by some people who were concerned an outlet center would hasten the decline of the already-struggling downtown district and supported by others who saw it as a sure way to boost the local economy.

Israel noted Wednesday that Tanger was a controversial development when it was proposed,  but has grown into a “tremendous attraction.” 

“Any major retailer and restaurant and franchisee and everything else would choose Tanger twice over being on Route 58, because they get their 10,000 people there in a day,” Israel said.

Tanger in Riverhead is not like Tanger in other parts of the country, Israel said. “Most Tanger Outlets are in the middle of nowhere. Riverhead is not the middle of nowhere,” he said.  

“So I just ask you to be fair, that you don’t kill the other baby down the street to help somebody,” he said.

Israel encouraged town officials to keep the zoning as is. “These guys are professional landlords, they will solve their problems,” he said.

Town officials, who worked with Tanger executives on the proposed zoning amendment, said during the hearing that the changes are necessary to help the town’s largest taxpayer adapt to a changing retail market. 

“This is just a national trend of how outlets are going, because retail has taken a big hit with online shopping,” Supervisor Tim Hubbard, who supports the amendment, said at the outset of the hearing. 

Community Development Director Dawn Thomas, the town’s head planning and economic development official, said the change in Tanger’s zoning “may even assist other business on Route 58, because it’s creating more of an experiential shopping” venue.

Downtown Riverhead, the target of the town government’s revitalization efforts, is a “completely different economy” than Route 58, Thomas said.

“I think this is designed to help them — not to hurt anybody else in town, but to make sure that they’re able to be successful,” Hubbard said. “Their success trickles over to Route 58 and the other businesses, especially downtown. Once the town square is completed, it’s going to be a destination for people to go if they come out this way.”

Deputy Town Attorney Annemarie Prudenti said that the proposed zoning changes are “not inconsistent with” the town’s current comprehensive plan. The document, which was adopted in 2003, established the land-use policy to consolidate the town’s big-box commercial development to the Route 58 corridor.

“Nothing in the new comp plan would in any way minimize or contradict” the new zoning, Prudenti said in response to a question by Council Member Ken Rothwell. Vision statements within the draft documents for the plans encourage “flexibility” in the ManufacturersOutlet Overlay District, also known as .” Business F.

Josephine Makowski of Wading River said the town should pause its development of the code and examine changes to Tanger through its comprehensive plan update. 

“[N]ot knowing all the details and listening to business owners here, I think we should be looking a little further into the comprehensive plan that you guys have been doing so much work on, that we don’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot,” Makowski said.

Riverhead resident Mike Foley said he supports the code amendments because he believes the comprehensive plan will provide more flexibility to developments along Route 58.

“We now have the ability,+ without taking anything away from Route 58 or anything away from Main Street, to put new businesses in Tanger mall that want to be there and will help pay that largest tax payment on the Riverhead rolls,” Foley said.

Foley also asked whether Tanger would pursue benefits from the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency for any new development in Riverhead.

“There’s not going to be new buildings built here. It’s a renovation and a reconfiguration,” Thomas responded to Foley. “And as you correctly stated that they have not sought or received IDA benefits in the past, and I don’t anticipate them asking.”

Prudenti said the town “did not grant [Tanger] probably 50% of what they wanted” for zoning changes. One request from Tanger denied by the town was allowing hotel uses, she said. The proposed code would add hotels to the list of explicitly prohibited uses in the overlay district, along with medical offices, personal care services, such as hair salons, nail salons, tattoo or tanning salons as stand-alone uses. It also prohibits stores or lounges that sell tobacco, cannabis and similar products.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: alek@riverheadlocal.com