How refreshing it was to see the county executive touring Riverside last week, a place many elected leaders have long avoided lest they have to confront firsthand the harsh realities that exist there: unpaved roads, long-abandoned stores, boarded-up shacks, drugs, crime. And this just a few miles from — and in the same town as — some of the wealthiest Zip codes in Suffolk County and the entire country.
Riverside’s sorry state is a reflection, in part, of policy made in Suffolk County and Southampton Town going back decades. The area deserves better. Yet former county executive Steve Levy contributed to a drastic decline in Riverside’s reputation and its residents’ quality of life with the 2007 placement of a construction trailer housing homeless sex offenders outside the county jail. The trailer sat there for years; it wasn’t until Mr. Levy was forced out of office and his successor — current county exec Steve Bellone — took over in 2012 that the hamlet saw any relief. Mr. Bellone oversaw its removal last May. And now he’s willing to lend his name, reputation and, hopefully, a fair amount of county funds to support local efforts to redevelop the depressed hamlet.
For a while now, county Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, Southampton council members Christine Scalera and Brad Bender, local civic leader Vince Taldone and many others have been focused on bringing sewers, road work and, ultimately, economic development and a sense of community to the area. No doubt Mr. Bellone’s visit will buoy their spirits in what they already know will be an uphill battle.
Consider also that, despite the skeptics and naysayers, the first mixed-use building in the $500 million Wyandanch Rising redevelopment project, which Mr. Bellone spearheaded as Babylon Town supervisor, broke ground in July. That project has been hailed across Long Island and touted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other officials in Albany. With Mr. Bellone on board in Riverside, he can take what he’s learned in Wyandanch and apply his experience and perspective to the reclamation of Riverside.
Judging by his words last week, Mr. Bellone seems optimistic about the prospect of a “Riverside Rising.” That’s huge, because the project will need his support and enthusiasm to succeed.