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The future of Riverhead A Times Review talks event

BY MAHREEN KHAN

Route 58 vs. downtown Riverhead. The future of Enterprise Park at Calverton. An expanding hospital in the heart of the town.

Those topics and more were at the forefront of a forum last week on the future of Riverhead. The TR Talks event, titled “Riverhead: What Will It Look Like 10 Years From Now,” brought together local officials, real estate professionals and a hospital director.

Times Review Media Group, publisher of the Riverhead News-Review, hosted the event, which was sponsored by Peconic Bay Medical Center, Richmond Realty and ULC Robotics.

The Peconic Riverfront in downtown Riverhead.

ROUTE 58 VS. DOWNTOWN

Can Riverhead support a healthy Route 58 business corridor while maintaining a vibrant downtown business district?

Richmond Realty owner Ike Israel said he sees downtown as “the heart of Riverhead.” He said the town should raise the cap on the number of apartments in that area.

“Right now, there’s a 500-unit cap in the DC-1 zone and currently, it’s my understanding there’s over 500 applications,” he said.

He said that while downtown draws a lot of people for its restaurants and attractions like the Long Island Aquarium, Suffolk Theater and Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, there are still vacant buildings that are “pretty much functionally obsolete.”

“They’re ready to be torn down and we need to come up with what they’re going to be next ... As far as shopping, I think if you take a step back and you look at Route 58, it’s easier to say what’s vacant than what’s rented ... If you look at Route 58 compared to [Tanger], I believe, overall, it has a lower vacancy rate.”

As an aside, Mr. Israel suggested that creating assisted living options would hugely benefit the level of visitors and jobs in Riverhead, too.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent said she wants to see greater reuse of buildings along Route 58, rather than new construction.

“I’m a little dismayed with the tree clearing on Route 58 and I think Ike mentioned that assisted living would work on Route 58,” she said. “I think at some point that would be a good use.”

She did say, however, that she was worried about the many starts and stops the town has been seeing.

“We’ve had some great studies done,” Ms. Kent said. The Brownfield Opportunity Area study, she added, “was a very good study, but the studies tend to be put on the shelves to collect dust. And I feel as though the downtown should be revitalized in a way that – it’s for all the residents, it’s a place that the entire community goes, that the hamlets feed into and everybody’s able to enjoy that space.”

The Downtown Revitalization Committee is a perfect way to start, said Ms. Kent, who is the Town Board liaison to that group.

“It’s a committee of community members,” she said. “We’ve got bankers, we’ve got real estate people, planners, architects.”

The town brought pattern book company Urban Design Associates on board because of the committee, she said.

“A lot of [the] time, people get frustrated. I’ll see comments. People say, ‘No one ever listens to us. The town doesn’t even care.’ But this is an opportunity for everybody to weigh in and be part of the solution,” Ms. Kent said.

In keeping with that goal, she said she’s striving to make downtown more walkable and improve mass transit options. She also touched upon the negative safety perception often associated with Riverhead, noting that, in response, the town is installing security cameras at select locations.

CAT/EPCAL

As the town continues toward the sale of 1,600 acres at EPCAL to Calverton Aviation & Technology, the future of the property appears to be coming into focus.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said for the last 20 years there have been failed efforts to redevelop the property, which was gifted to the town by the Navy for $1. It was the town’s responsibility to come up with a plan and a developer to replace the jobs lost when Grumman left.

“The infrastructure is very costly, the sewer and water could range from $60 to $80 million, so finding somebody that could come up with the money not only to buy the property, but to build the infrastructure and to attract businesses that could create the jobs, it was quite a difficult task for previous boards and also this board,” Ms. Giglio said.

She said that she sees technology as the future because it will “make it so that we can have the Silicon Valley of the East Coast, with jobs for our kids and for our futures, so that they don’t have to leave Long Island.

“I see these innovators of the future technology coming into and working in synergy with CAT to bring those aerospace and aeronautic jobs back to the Grumman facility and I can’t think of a better place for that to happen,” she continued. “I do know that the DEC has fought the town since I’ve been working on the subdivision since 2012 as far as the development of the open space and the ponds that are there, the grasslands, the forest areas. I see a lot of that being preserved and, hopefully, being used for the public.”

Ms. Kent said the CAT deal has been flawed from the start.

“There’s been sort of a shroud of secrecy over the development plan,” she said. “We have very little information on the timeline.”

She said the recent work session where several start-up companies were presented as interested in working with CAT was “encouraging.”

“But for me, I need to see a couple of big anchor companies coming in so that I know that they really are going to be able to fulfill their promises,” Ms. Kent said.

HOUSING

Yvette Aguiar, who won November’s election for supervisor, spoke about her plan to address overcrowded housing and public safety.

“School overcrowding affects our budget,” she said. “It has a direct impact. It also affects our property values. The change at the moment is very fluid. Officers have to be hired, personnel have to be trained, equipment has to be purchased and we need to assign an individual who’s going to being able to carry this effort forward with the proper leadership and the proper vision.”

The plan Ms. Aguiar recommended in September is an initial managerial plan, she said.

“This is not the panacea of addressing school overcrowding and addressing the issue that we’re facing here in Riverhead,” she said. “We need to now be methodical ... I’m currently an outsider looking in and I need to make these decisions as an insider looking out, for the entire community.”

Ms. Aguiar also spoke about the disconnect between town government and the Riverhead Central School District, saying that it is critical the town work holistically with the district to heighten communication. She is considering having parents and guardians use an enrollment system and signing an affidavit, as is protocol in other towns, to strengthen relations with code enforcement.

“We have to implement that type of system; it’s a viable system,” she said. “Utilizing these affidavits would help us in lessening the overcrowding at our school.”

Amy Loeb of PBMC.

PBMC

PBMC deputy executive director Amy Loeb spoke on the future of the hospital and how it’s changed and will continue to grow.

The hospital’s surgical center opened about 10 years ago, as did its state-of-the-art emergency department. Today, that same emergency department is in need of expansion.

“With the new Corey Critical Care Pavilion, we have shell space,” she said.

The $60 million facility features a comprehensive cardiac care center and cath labs, which are the first facilities of their kind on the East End. PBMC received a $10 million donation from philanthropists and longtime supporters Emilie and Michael Corey in early September, making it the largest gift PBMC has ever received from an individual.

From targeting the aging community to expanding services into Greenport and beyond, keeping people out of the hospital with home treatment and telemedicine, growing the number of skilled practitioners in the hospital and focusing on support programs and women’s health programs, much work is underway, said Ms. Loeb.

Sean McClean of Renaissance Downtowns.

RIVERSIDE

Riverside is located in Southampton Town but is often viewed as an extension of downtown Riverhead. Sean McLean, CEO of Renaissance Downtowns, said extensive development is imminent there.

“There are far more problems in Riverside, I think, socially, than there are in Riverhead’s downtown,” Mr. McLean said. “I think Riverhead suffers from what Riverside looks like and the impression that Riverside gives as you approach the downtown. Hopefully, with the new construction, we’ll start to change that.”

Riverside saw a full zoning change and environmental SEQRA review some years back — permitting nearly 3 million square feet of construction in the Riverside hamlet center under a new overlay form-based zoning district. Mr. McClean said the SEQRA review for Riverside was the most environmentally progressive analysis ever done in downstate New York because of development of the new sewer treatment plan.

“That sewer treatment plan is the one last major step toward getting underway with the construction of the remainder of the buildings,” he said. “We have the funding allocated through New York State to build the treatment plant ... When the treatment plan is built, this will be a major environmental remediation for the East End, hopefully helping to address this dire scallop situation and the health of the bays.”

What happens in Riverside, he said, inevitably affects Riverhead and beyond because of the Peconic Estuary.

“From that perspective, it’s important and continuing working with Riverhead on maintaining environmental standards that are going to continue to create a healthier environment for the Peconic Estuary, I think, is very important,” he said. “From a social perspective, it is one community, but we often distinguish things between party lines and voting districts and boundaries.”

The municipalities, he said, need to improve their working relationship. From expansion of the Bridgehampton-based Children’s Museum of the East End to Riverside’s new fee-based system for fair-share environmental mitigation, positive changes are in the works, Mr. McClean said, and it is critical that the local governments act promptly and work collaboratively.