06/21/13 6:59am
06/21/2013 6:59 AM

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

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.

06/15/13 2:10pm
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

06/12/13 8:00am
06/12/2013 8:00 AM

Suffolk County Community College’s eastern campus will be home to a new $17 million health and sports facility, including an Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool, sooner than expected.

Construction on the roughly 49,000-square-foot facility for physical education and athletics courses will begin next year after funds were made available earlier than the expected start date in 2015, according to County Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk).

The health center will include two multi-purpose rooms, office space, a gymnasium, locker rooms, the pool, and strength training and aerobic rooms.

Half of the construction funding will be paid for by New York State, Mr. Schneiderman said, adding the facility will generate revenue for the college on weekends and evenings when used by outside groups for events.

The legislature’s Bipartisan Capital Budget Working Group, which Mr. Schneiderman chairs, pushed the construction funding up to 2014; the legislature approved the new funding plan at its June 4 meeting.

Construction is expected to finish in 2015.

“This facility will make our campus a complete campus like the two in western Suffolk,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “This facility will be a huge boost not only for the eastern campus of SCCC but for the entire East End community.”

Mr. Schneiderman said the center’s pool will be open to the public year-round.

“This will be the first public indoor swimming pool in the Town of Southampton and the need for a pool has been well documented for years,” said Legislator Schneiderman, adding the pool will “provide a safe place for our children to learn how to swim before they jump in the ocean.”

He also said local school districts can now set up swim teams and use the pool to train and compete.

05/06/13 6:00am
05/06/2013 6:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A vote to expand Sunday bus service is expected to take place at the County Legislature’s general meeting May 7 in Hauppauge.

Suffolk Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone are rolling out new legislation aimed at bringing year-round Sunday bus service to the East End. The measure would extend service for the S92 and 10C routes.

The proposed expansion comes on the heels of a pilot program launched two years ago that introduced Sunday and holiday service from Memorial Day through Columbus Day, according to Mr. Schneiderman.

New York State recently increased funding for Suffolk transit, giving the county the opportunity to provide Sunday bus service year-round, officials said. The legislation allocates $1.1 million additional state funding toward expanding the service.

In addition to the state-provided funds, the legislation would also direct the county Department of Public Works to apply for federal matching grant funding through the Job Access Reverse Commute program, with the goal of receiving more than $2 million to cover the cost of the expansion.

The measure is co-sponsored by Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue).

“Many businesses on the East End, including in my North Fork legislative district, rely on public transportation to get workers to their jobs, especially during the summer season,” Mr. Krupski said in a press release issued this week.

Aside from the benefits the additional service could provide residents, officials say the new legislation could potentially bring environmental and economic improvements to the county.

“This resolution is a step forward to expand bus service while cutting our deficit,” Mr. Bellone said in a statement. “Expanding bus service helps take cars off the road and provides opportunity and access for thousands of Suffolk County residents.”

The bill, which has already passed the Legislature’s public works and transportation committee, will be voted on Tuesday during the county Legislature’s general meeting in Hauppauge.

If approved, the plan would be continued as a pilot program for one year. The Department of Public Works would then be required to report on the success of the pilot program to base the feasibility of continuing the program beyond the one-year pilot period.

cmurray@timesreview.com

01/30/13 10:32pm
01/30/2013 10:32 PM

TIM GANNON PHOTO | About 50 people attended a community forum on the county’s homeless sex offender trailers in Riverside and Westhampton Wednesday night at the county center, where speakers criticized the county for not removing the trailers after seven years.

Suffolk County’s new plan for dealing with sex offenders will be presented to the county Legislature’s public safety committee at 9:30 a.m. Thursday and it could be approved as early as next week, according to South Fork Legislator Jay Schneiderman.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone directed the county police department to develop “a comprehensive approach to better protect our communities from sex offenders” on Jan. 2, after failing to meet his own goal of eliminating the two homeless sex offender trailers in Westhampton and Riverside by the end of 2012.

Those trailers continue to draw concern from East End residents and officials, who say the county’s entire homeless sex offender population is being dumped on one town.

That was evident at a community forum hosted by Mr. Schneiderman (I-Montauk) at the county center Thursday night, where about 50 people gathered and vented their frustration at the county’s failure to remove the two trailers after seven years.

Mr. Schneiderman said he had spoken to Mr. Bellone the day before the meeting and had gotten some snippets of the new sex offender plan, which will be presented at Thursday’s committee meeting by Suffolk Police Chief James Burke and Laura Ahearn, Executive Director of Parents for Megan’s Law.

Mr. Schneiderman said he had hoped the new plan would have been ready before Wednesday’s forum, but it wasn’t. Mr. Bellone was not present, sending a member of his staff instead.

“The county executive said this new proposal would have the most intense monitoring of sex offenders anywhere in the country,” Mr. Schneiderman said. Mr. Bellone had originally planned to enact a plan the county legislature created in 2011, calling for the creation of six mini-shelters throughout the county, to replace the two trailers on the East End, which house about 40 homeless sex offenders, most of whom are not from the East End, Mr. Schneiderman said.

But Mr. Bellone felt it would take time to build these mini-shelters and each one would be met with intense opposition from neighbors, Mr. Schneiderman said.

So instead, he asked the police department to come up with a new plan that addresses not only the 40 or so homeless sex offenders but also the approximately 1,000 sex offenders who aren’t homeless in Suffolk County.

Mr. Schneiderman said the new plan could be voted on by the full Legislature Tuesday.

“The county executive said that if it doesn’t pass, he is willing to do the mini-shelters, but it is going to take time to build them,” he said.

Bill O’Leary, a forensic psychologist who worked with sex offenders and other criminals in conjunction with the police, said at Wednesday’s meeting that the average cost of putting a homeless sex offender in one of the trailers is $3,000 per person per month, whereas the average cost to house an ordinary homeless person is $309 per person per month.

“This is because of all the residency restrictions [placed on sex offenders],” he said. Living in the trailer hinders attempts to reduce recidivism in the sex offenders, he said.

“The better I do my job, the better chance someone won’t get hurt later,” Mr. O’Leary said. “I fought against the trailers because it compromises my ability to do my job. Instead of being able to get what they’re supposed to get from treatment, most of the ones sent back to jail are from the trailers, and are homeless. They are not getting anything from therapy, because they are worried about where they are going to sleep that night or where they are going to get food.”

Amy Davidson, who lives in downtown Riverhead, said she has two kids and worries about the proximity of the trailer at the jail parking lot to downtown Riverhead.

“I would like my kids to be able to ride their bikes to Ralph’s Italian Ices and know they are safe,” she said.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said it will be difficult to get the 18-member county Legislature to give up the trailers, because only two of the 18 represent the East End.

“The Town of Riverhead did a $104,000 budget transfer to increase patrols on Main Street,” Mr. Walter said. “Main Street is by far the heaviest patrolled area in the town, and that is in no small part because of this sex offender trailer.”

Mason Haas of Jamesport said the county is paying about $1.4 million a year to house the sex offenders in the trailers.

“This program is not working,” he said. “It needs to be fixed.”

tgannon@timesreview.com

01/09/13 9:00pm
01/09/2013 9:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The inside of the trailer for homeless sex offenders in place outside the Suffolk County Jail in Riverside.

With the News Year’s Day deadline to close the Riverside and Westhampton homeless sex offender trailers having come and gone without progress, County Legislator Jay Schneiderman has set up a community meeting later this month for residents to state their concerns.

Mr. Schneiderman was a guest speaker at Monday’s meeting of the Flanders, Riverside, and Northampton Community Association. He said County Executive Steve Bellone, who had promised to remove the trailers by the end of 2012, called him on New Year’s Eve to apologize and ask for more time to clear out the homeless trailers.

The trailers house all of Suffolk County’s homeless sex offenders, a policy that local town and county officials said was unfair to the Riverside and Westhampton communities who are being forced to shoulder the burden.

Mr. Schniederman said that while he believes Mr. Bellone will keep his promise and that he “remains committed to getting rid of [the trailers],” the community is not done fighting yet.

“I want to hear from you guys, too,” Mr. Schniederman said. “We’ve got schools, we’ve got libraries, we’ve got a lot places where children are and I will take whatever you say to the County Executive.”

The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Jan. 30 at the County Center in Riverside and is open to the public.

Though Mr. Schneiderman said he was frustrated with the lack of progress on the issue, he said the county executive promised he would have a comprehensive proposal tackling not just the problem of homeless sex offenders in Suffolk County, but solving issues of housing all homeless families in Suffolk County by the Legislature’s first meeting in February.

Mr. Schneiderman said he hoped to have a draft of the plan before his Jan. 30 meeting to share with residents.

psquire@timesreview.com

01/02/13 11:23am
01/02/2013 11:23 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The trailer for homeless sex offenders on the Suffolk County jail property in Riverside.

County Executive Steve Bellone is urging Suffolk County Police Department officials to come up with a comprehensive plan to better protect residents from registered sex offenders.

No matter what the plan is, it must end the county’s policy of housing homeless sex offenders in trailers on the East End, Mr. Bellone said Wednesday.

The county currently provides overnight housing for homeless sex offenders who receive Department of Social Services assistance in two construction trailers, one in the parking lot of the county jail in Riverside and one on county police property in Westhampton.

Both are located in Southampton Town.

The trailers, which the county initially said would move to different locations, have remained in Southampton Town since 2007.

“We will develop the most stringent monitoring and enforcement program in the nation,” Mr. Bellone said in a press release about a larger plan to better protect the public from sex offenders living in Suffolk County.

Mr. Bellone has vowed to end the county’s current policy regarding homeless sex offenders within the first year of his administration but missed his January 1 deadline to close the trailers.

Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) said although he’s “disappointed” Mr. Bellone failed to keep his promise, he’s “encouraged” about his new approach.

“I think those who are affected are losing patience, but hopefully not losing hope,” said of his Riverside and Westhampton constituents.

The Legislature approved last year a plan to create a “mini shelter” in each town that would provide 24 hour housing to no more than six sex offenders at a time. The program’s design would only allow housing for up to 36 homeless sex offenders, which Mr. Bellone’s spokesman Jon Schneider said the county executive has “concerns” about.

Since the county is currently responsible to provide housing for over 40 sex offenders, Mr. Schneider said the law would already have to be amended to either allow more than six sex offenders in a shelter or place more than one shelter in a town.

Mr. Schneiderman, whose district includes both homeless sex offender locations, agreed the mini-shelter plan is problematic but said he believes it’s the best way to “share the burden.”

On Tuesday, former County Executive Steve Levy criticized Mr. Schneiderman on Twitter saying, “Leg. Schneiderman says can’t move east end sex offenders on his own, but he blocked voucher plan that would have had them moved 2 years ago.”

Mr. Schneiderman described Mr. Levy’s comment as “inaccurate” and “phony” since he and former North Fork Legislator Ed Romaine cast the only “yes” votes for the voucher program.

Mr. Schneiderman said he voted in favor of the voucher program, which involves providing homeless sex offenders $90 a night to stay in a motel, even though he didn’t like it because he believed it was a better plan than the current trailer policy.

“He could have implemented the plan on his own as county executive if he wanted to, but instead he brought it to the Legislature when he knew it would fail, overwhelming” Mr. Schneiderman said.

When asked if the police department is taking another look at a voucher program in addition to de-clustering homeless sex offenders housing on the East End, Mr. Schneider said “everything is on the table.”

“The only thing not on the table is maintaining the trailer policy, which the county executive firmly believes is a burden on East End communities,” he said.

Mr. Schneider said the police department will work with other local agencies, advocacy organizations and mental health experts to determine how to strengthen the county’s overall approach in dealing with over 1,000 sex offenders.

He stressed there has been “far too much focus” on how to deal with the four percent that are homeless and believes the new direction of the discussion is needed in order to come up with ways to track and monitor the majority of county sex offenders.

The new plan is expected to be submitted to the Legislature later this month. County officials said the earliest the plan could be voted is at the Legislature’s Feb. 5 meeting.

jennifer@timesreview.com

10/03/12 3:13pm
10/03/2012 3:13 PM

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, center, and Legislator Jay Schneiderman, right, at a press conference earlier this year.

East End lawmakers are divided over County Executive Steve Bellone’s recent recommendation that more county health centers transition to a federally operated model.

Touting the “successful” transfer of the county’s Elsie Owens Health Center in Coram to Hudson River HealthCare earlier this year, Mr. Bellone’s preliminary 2013 budget proposes to shift three East End county health centers into the Federally Qualified Health Centers program, known as FQHC.

County officials said Hudson River HealthCare — a federally operated, not-for-profit group with a network of 18 community health centers throughout the state and an office in Greenport — is being considered to take over county health centers in Riverhead, Southampton and East Hampton as well as The Maxine S. Postal Tri-Community Health Center in Amityville.

There are currently no plans to move remaining western Suffolk county health centers out from under the county’s jurisdiction.

Mr. Bellone said the move will save the county money because it will shift the overall cost of medical malpractice to the federal government. He maintained it will also improve the level of care by offering longer hours and providing dental services.

The executive said budget limitations prevent the county from achieving these types of offerings and believes expanding additional health centers to FQHCs will enhance services at a lower cost.

South Fork Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), whose district includes the Riverhead, Southampton and East Hampton county health centers, said he agrees the county should look into the FQHC model because it will save the county money while increasing the quality of health care.

If approved, he said, the plan could go into effect as early as March.

“I like the federal model much better than what we have now,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “I think it will improve the level of service to our residents.”

North Fork Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) said he’s opposed to moving quickly because he hasn’t seen any information that warrants such a change.

He said the decision to transfer the county’s health center in Coram to Hudson River HealthCare was a special case because it was the only alternative to keep it open. Former County Executive Steve Levy cut the funding for that facility in his 2012 budget and a partnership with Stony Brook University Medical Center didn’t come to fruition.

Mr. Romaine said an evaluation of how well the Coram health center is doing under Hudson River HealthCare hasn’t been completed and he hasn’t seen any information showing that the Riverhead health center and the two South Fork satellite offices face the same financial peril.

“I haven’t seen any information showing the Riverhead health center isn’t financially viable,” he said. “I have grave concerns because, at first blush, [Mr. Bellone] hasn’t provided any compelling information.”

County spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said Mr. Bellone’s office held a conference call June 28 with legislators to discuss the county health center overhaul recommendation.

Although an official evaluation of the Hudson River HealthCare takeover of the Coram site six months ago hasn’t been completed, Ms. Baird-Streeter said a steering committee will help the county decide the feasibility of switching other health centers to the federal model.

Other recommendations in Mr. Bellone’s proposed $2.77 billion spending plan, which freezes general fund taxes and doesn’t call for any layoffs, include increasing the county police district budget by $12.4 million next year to fund a new police class of 75 officers in September. Only households in western Suffolk County towns will see the $27 hike in their tax bill to support the increase, since East End towns run their own police forces. The county passed a similar tax increase last year to pay for a new police recruiting class of 80 officers.

Earlier this year the county laid off 658 employees and approved two controversial deals to sell the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility and surplus land in Yaphank. Mr. Bellone said those decisions will help the county close its budget gap. Financial experts estimated in March that the county’s three-year shortfall will be large as a $530 million.

“While we are making the tough choices to address the problems that have accumulated over the years, we must remain vigilant,” Mr. Bellone said in a press release. “My proposed 2013 budget is balanced, holds property taxes under the New York State tax cap, includes no general fund tax increase and will not lay off any additional employees … I look forward to working with the Suffolk County Legislature to enact this fiscally responsible budget.”

Mr. Romaine, who is the GOP candidate in this year’s race for Brookhaven Town supervisor, said he plans to draft amendments to restore funding for East End Arts’ annual Winterfest event and for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County programing. Those amounts weren’t immediately available.

The Legislature is expected to vote on the preliminary budget Nov. 7, the day after Election Day.

jennifer@timesreview.com