Suffolk County lawmaker unveils vision for a ‘new’ Riverside

06/15/2013 2:10 PM |
TIM GANNON PHOTO | Legislator Jay Schneiderman presented his vision for Riverside at a civic meeting last week.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Jay Schneiderman presented his vision for Riverside at a civic meeting.

County Legislator Jay Schneiderman has a dream.

In the dream, the hamlet of Riverside has a small restaurant and grocery store near the traffic circle and a small three-story business district across from McDonald’s with stores on the ground floor and apartments or offices on the upper floors.

The plans call for a 'Main Street' along Route 24.

The plans call for a ‘Main Street’ along Route 24.

The South Fork lawmaker also envisions a trail through the woods leading down to the Peconic River. The trail would connect with a footbridge that would span the river into downtown Riverhead.

The area in question would stretch about a half-mile in the style of a Main Street along Route 24, across from McDonald’s and west of Vail Avenue. Most of the buildings in this area are currently vacant or for sale, he said.

Mr. Schneiderman (I-Montauk) showed off a 3-D computer model of what he’s envisioned at Monday’s meeting of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association.

Of course, no paperwork has been filed in Town Hall to move forward with any plans, other than for a possible trail to the river, for which the county and Southampton Town are seeking $50,000 in grant money.

“This is all just conceptual, for discussion purposes, to bring people onto same page,” Mr. Schneiderman said Monday. “If this is the vision you want, you hire professional planners and engineers and develop it in a more detailed way.”

For the “vision” to become reality, he said, “it would require all these property owners to come to the table and work together and maybe sell their land to someone else or become part of the project. Or they could continue to do what they’ve been doing, and that would be unfortunate.”

Southampton Town officials have conducted numerous studies over the years on ways to revitalize the beleaguered hamlet. Often, the answer involves creating a commercial sewer district, something Suffolk County is also studying.

Another proposal the county is currently studying involves improvements to the Route 24 traffic circle.

The Suffolk County Department of Public Works is down to two options for improving the Route 24 traffic circle in Riverside, Mr. Schneiderman said Monday.

One option would involve reconfiguring the circle into an oval-shaped roundabout and making it two lanes, he said, similar to what was done with the Route 58 traffic circle in Riverhead.

“They say this will work, but not as well as it would if they took one leg out,” he said, referring to the plan to cut off one of the five roads leading to the circle.

The county is  reaching out to the owner of the Budget Host Inn property near the circle to see about redeveloping that property as a supermarket and allow Riverleigh Avenue to run through that land and connect to Lake Avenue, instead of running up to the five-pronged circle, Mr. Schneiderman later said.

“This would be my preferred alternative,” he told a reporter. “If we do not succeed with cooperation from the property owner and the town, then we will focus on the concept of enlarging the circle into a two lane oval with all the current roads leading in an out.

“So how do we get to this from where we are now, which is just boarded-up building after boarded-up building?” Mr. Schneiderman asked the audience at the meeting.

In addition to support from locals and area property owners, he said, installing sewer infrastructure is necessary for any Main Street-like business district to become reality.

“Why are sewers important?” Mr. Schneiderman asked. “It’s very hard to get economic development without them” due to environmental constraints caused by the area’s close proximity to the Peconic River and other parkland.

This leads to the question of where a sewage treatment plant should be located and how large an area it should serve.

The study currently underway shows three prospective locations for a sewage treatment plant. One is adjacent to the River Woods community, whose residents have already voiced opposed that option. Another is near the County Center and the third is near a former auto dealership on Riverleigh Avenue.

Mr. Schneiderman said the smaller the area served by the sewer district, the lower that cost, and that locating the plant near the area it’s going to serve also would be less expensive.

Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, who also was present Monday, said several small sewage treatment plants could be placed in different locations, instead of having one large plant.

A draft version of the county’s Riverside sewer district study is expected to be completed in the fall, according to Boris Rukovets of the Suffolk County Department of Public Works.

In addition to community support, property owner cooperation and a sewer district, the vision would have to go through planning and engineering reviews, require zone changes and gain support from regulatory agencies, while utilizing grants and other funding sources, Mr. Schneiderman said.

Chris Sheldon of Northampton suggested moving Route 24 farther from the river and behind the existing businesses to create more waterfront land.

Ms. Throne-Holst said the town plans to seek “requests for qualifications” from developers and seek plans from them to redevelop areas like Riverside.

This way, she said, the redevelopment could be funded by private dollars instead of tax dollars.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said in an interview Tuesday that he likes the idea of a footbridge over the Peconic River. As for efforts to revitalize Riverside, he said that as downtown Riverhead improves, so will Riverside — and vice-versa.

tgannon@timesreview.com