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Apartments, retail stores proposed for Railroad Avenue

05/18/2016 9:00 AM |

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A five-story mixed-use development proposed for the town-owned parking lot on Railroad Avenue was discussed at last Thursday’s Riverhead Town Board work session.

But Supervisor Sean Walter says that if the town wants to allow development on its property there legally, it may have to issue a request for proposals from other developers.

Pamela Mikus of California-based Premiant Development and Ben Wauford of Cooper Carry in Manhattan have proposed a five-story, 153-unit development that would leaving the existing 237 parking spaces on the ground floor as-is.

The proposal also calls for 156 “structured” parking spaces on the second floor and a total of 153 apartments on the third, fourth and fifth floors. There also would be 2,500 square feet of retail space on the ground level.

“We think it really does provide a great opportunity for an appropriate scale development that’s residential in nature,” Mr. Wauford said.

“We are thinking of having a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments,” Ms. Mikus said. “I was anticipating a portion [at] market rate and a portion [as] workforce housing,” she said, adding that they have not determined what percentage would be market rate.

Because there already are several workforce apartment projects in town, Mr. Walter suggested that 80 percent of the proposed apartments be offered at a market rate.

The town acquired much of the land in the 1990s through condemnation in order to provide parking for the adjacent county courts complex. At that time, the town offered to provide additional court parking in exchange for the county’s agreement to build additional courtrooms in Riverhead instead of Central Islip, which it had been considering.

“Anything you do, if we decide to go with this, that [existing] amount of parking has to be incorporated into the project as free parking for the courts,” Mr. Walter said.

Mr. Wauford said the proposed retail space would be positioned adjacent to existing stores on Railroad Avenue and across the street from the train station, which he said could have retail uses as well

“There really could be a great opportunity to synergize, with a little node of retail at the train station,” he said.

“It would really change the dynamic of the whole area,” Ms. Mikus said. “It could make that train station a really interesting sort of destination.”

“So that I don’t want to burn it down,” quipped Mr. Walter, who has complained to the LIRR about conditions at the train station for several years.

Architect Ben Wauford and developer Pamela Mikus discussed their proposed five-story development with the Town Board last Thursday.  (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Architect Ben Wauford and developer Pamela Mikus discussed their proposed five-story development with the Town Board last Thursday. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Councilman John Dunleavy likes the proposal.

“We have nothing there now to discourage people from hanging out at the train station,” he said.

“If there [are] people there, it sort of self polices itself,” Mr. Wauford said.

“Not only will it bring more life to the railroad station area, I think it will bring more trains,” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said.

“I appreciate the whole idea,” Councilman Jim Wooten said. But he asked whether Ms. Mikus proposes buying the property or leasing the land from the town.

“We don’t know what you are able to do,” Ms. Mikus said. She said the town would have to determine that.

Mr. Walter wondered if the town needs to issue a request for proposals from other developers who might want to build on the same land. And he said other developers have asked about that property.

Mr. Walter also said the town would need to seek feedback from the court system and change the property’s zoning.

The proposed development would occupy much of the same property where Vintage Square had previously proposed a mixed-use development featuring a movie theater, apartments, a parking garage and stores.

That proposal also called for Vintage Square to acquire the existing buildings on the eastern end of Railroad Avenue. In the end, the developer didn’t acquired any of those buildings, and the project stalled.

Developer Richard Israel, who has purchased several buildings on the east side of Railroad Avenue and adjacent streets, was present at last Thursday’s work session.

“I am probably spending $1.5 million an acre to assemble property on this other block,” Mr. Israel said. “Is it the intention of the town to give the parcel to this other development?”

“We still owe money on this parcel, so it’s never going to be given away for free,” Mr. Walter said.

Ms. Mikus said she and her partners plan to pay for the land.

“You have opened our eyes in a tremendous way and I think that we now have to put our heads together and find a way to sort of push this forward,” Mr. Walter told Ms. Mikus. “I suspect you’re going to hear from us pretty soon as to what direction we’re going to take.”

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