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Renaissance Downtowns may buy Riverside hotel land

06/18/2016 12:00 PM |

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Long before there was Riverside Rediscovered, there was Dede Gotthelf.

The Southampton Inn owner and developer was one of the first — and last — developers in recent years to propose a major project in the hamlet of Riverside, which census figures indicate is among Suffolk County’s most economically distressed hamlets. 

Ms. Gotthelf and her company, Catcove Corp., first proposed building a 140-room hotel and conference center on 25 acres along the Peconic River in Riverside in 2000.

But that project never came to fruition. And now, after encountering opposition at the state and town level, she’s selling the last of her properties there.

A potential buyer for the six acres that are up for sale is Renaissance Downtowns of Plainview, the company that Southampton Town has appointed as “master developer” for its Riverside redevelopment efforts.

“We are looking at the property,” said Sean McLean, vice president of planning and development for Renaissance Downtowns. “We have met with the owner’s representatives and we are considering making an offer to purchase it. There’s definitely development potential on it and we’re evaluating it now.”

Renaissance Downtowns is overseeing the Riverside Rediscovered effort, a name chosen by residents. Renaissance was appointed by the town in 2013 to guide the redevelopment of Riverside, and is doing so in three main ways, according to Mr. McLean.

One way is consulting with property owners and prospective developers, another is partnering with potential developers and the third is buying property outright and develop it themselves, he said.

Southampton Town is not paying Renaissance. The only way the company can make money in Riverside is to develop or help develop property, Mr. McLean said.

Unlike most large developments, Ms. Gotthelf’s original project had support from local civic organizations, which said that Riverside and Flanders have suffered from lack of a commercial tax base to offset taxes. Likewise, Ms. Gotthelf made regular visits to the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association’s meetings to get public feedback on the project.

But she ran into a number of setbacks along the way, including the state Department of Transportation which condemned two acres in the middle of the property for a sump, and town and state officials who later balked at the size of the project. In 2008, Ms. Gotthelf ended up filing a $25 million federal lawsuit against various state and town officials, claiming they conspired to delay her project. That lawsuit was later dismissed.

Eventually, in 2011, she sold 14 acres of the property to the county for preservation and kept the remaining six acres, which she is now selling.

“I’m doing other things,” she said in an interview. “I have a lot of stuff on my plate right now and I’d love to be able to see the Riverside property be developed, for itself and for the community. But it’s an opportunity for the next person.

“I still think it’s just a fabulous site and a wonderful area with lots of potential,” she said.

The available 6.2-acre property, which stretches from the north side of Flanders Road to the southern portion of the Peconic River, is listed at $4.4 million with CBRE, a real estate firm hired by Ms. Gotthelf.

Zoning for the property permits up to 44 hotel rooms, suites or housing units or an assisted living facility, Ms. Gotthelf said.

Mr. McLean said the land would be suitable for rental housing or a waterfront business. He said they would not consider building a hotel.

Like all property in Riverside, it has two zoning designations: the current zoning or the optional overlay zoning the town approved as part of the redevelopment effort. The optional overlay zoning allows more valuable uses but requires greater environmental protection, officials say.

“We’ve been very supportive of her,” former FRNCA president Vince Taldone said of Ms. Gotthelf. “We so wanted her project to be here. We know she has development skills and we really wanted to see her get it done, especially because she tried for so long. But she bought that land and she’s been paying a lot of taxes on it for a long time.

“We’re disappointed it won’t be her to develop it,” he said. “I know she would have done such a beautiful job.”

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