As downtown Riverhead continues its recovery, its severely blighted neighbor to the south, Riverside, sits stagnant.
But that doesn’t mean nothing has been happening in the Southampton hamlet. Lawmakers from both Southampton and Riverhead towns, as well as Suffolk County, and area civic and business leaders have been crafting a plan to transform the area.
Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman and Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst recently presented a vision for the Riverside hamlet that should be embraced. Despite the naysayers, the vision is a realistic one. Perhaps most important, it gives all those who have their heads and hearts invested in revitalizing the area a concrete picture of what they should be working toward.
Things in Riverside looked bleak indeed when, about three years ago, the Rivercatwalk Hotel plan for land along the Peconic River fell apart amid environmental concerns. Many had pinned their hopes on the complex to jump-start revitalization and bring a much needed commercial tax base to the area. A large portion of that property has since been purchased by Suffolk County for open space. But that whole experience only proved that sewer systems are a necessary component of any attempt at a large development project or creating a Main Street-type business district that could complement Riverhead’s rebounding downtown.
Pols and area property and business owners agree that, given the area’s hight water table and proximity to the river, Riverside can never truly be built up as a business district without sewers and could continue to be trouble-plagued for years, stunting downtown Riverhead’s further growth.
What’s needed is laser focus among elected leaders at many levels of government — Suffolk County, Riverhead, Southampton and New York State — on getting a plan in place and then securing the funding needed to connect sewers to the area. This effort should rival that undertaken by so many lawmakers to fast-track development efforts at the Enterprise Park at Calverton.
A Main Street in Riverside, which would run along Route 24 and include two- and three-story buildings, is a key part of the hamlet vision, as is a reconfigured traffic circle. A footpath in the now county-owned property east of McDonald’s, with a footbridge connecting downtown Riverhead and Riverside, is also part of the plan and could become the centerpiece of a bustling East End commercial center. With so much time and money already invested in downtown Riverhead, no one can afford to turn a blind eye toward a long-neglected area just a stone’s throw away.