07/31/13 5:00pm
07/31/2013 5:00 PM
JAY SCHNEIDERMAN COURTESY RENDERING | The footbridge that would cross the Peconic River and connect Riverside to downtown Riverhead.

JAY SCHNEIDERMAN COURTESY RENDERING | The footbridge that would cross the Peconic River and connect Riverside to downtown Riverhead.

The Suffolk County Legislature voiced its support Tuesday of Southampton Town’s application for state funding to build a pedestrian footbridge that would span the Peconic River and connect Riverside to downtown Riverhead.

The resolution, which was approved 16-0, allows the recently acquired county parkland in Riverside to be used as the southern terminus for the proposed bridge, and authorizes the county to take whatever steps are needed to facilitate the bridge plan.

The northern part of the proposed bridge would begin near the Long Island Aquarium on the Riverhead Town side of the river, officials said.

Approvals from Southampton and Riverhead towns would ultimately be needed as well.

Southampton Town also has applied for a $50,000 county grant to make a walking trail from Flanders Road to the river, at a point where the bridge would begin.

The estimated cost of the bridge is $1.145 million, according to county Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), who sponsored the resolution. The state grant being sought allows the cost of land acquisition — which was already paid to the former property owner — to be used as a matching portion of the grant, so long as it was purchased in the past three years.

In this case, the $2.4 million land acquisition occurred in September of 2011, which puts it within that three-year window, and means that the entire $1.145 million cost of the bridge could be funded by the state grant if it is awarded for the project, Mr. Schneiderman said in an interview.

“It wouldn’t cost the county or the towns of Southampton or Riverhead anything,” he said.

The 14-acre parkland in question had been owned by Dede Gotthelf of Southampton, who had planned to built a hotel there, but her proposed plans got bogged down by environmental concerns and she sold the property to Suffolk.

The grant being sought has an Aug. 12 deadline for submission, so Mr. Schneiderman had to convince Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone to put the vote on the agenda through a certificate of necessity, allowing it to skip the committee process.

The Flanders Riverside and Northampton Community Association is already in support of the foot bridge, said Vince Taldone, the group’s president.

“We have these 14 acres that were acquired for parkland and now we’re looking to find what we can do with it,” he said. “How can we make the best use of it? Now is the time to start looking, because Southampton Town is seriously engaged in a revitalization effort for Riverside.”

The town has a Riverside economic development committee that is planning on issuing a request for proposals from developers with ideas on how to rebuild the beleaguered Riverside hamlet.

“We think one of the things that will make the area more attractive to investors is to have a beautiful park across the street” from a Main Street-like business district envisioned for Flanders Road, Mr. Taldone said in an interview.

“This would be a great addition to the kind of economic development and facelift we’re trying to bring to that area,” Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne Holst told the Legislature Tuesday. “It’s somewhat unique and a great attraction that would help both Riverhead and the Town of Southampton in the areas of Flanders and Riverside, which have been in some economic distress.”

Mr. Schneiderman recently unveiled a 3D computer graphic “vision” for Riverside at a FRNCA meeting, calling for the creation of a small downtown area near the traffic circle. The vision includes the walking trail and footbridge over the Peconic.

“I think this will become a landmark,” Mr. Schneiderman said of the proposed bridge. “People will get married on the bridge, and people will come to Riverhead just to walk on the bridge.”

EDITORIAL: RIVERSIDE PLAN WILL NEED MUCH SUPPORT

The legislator spent Wednesday measuring the height of the Route 105 bridge, which spans the Peconic River to the east, with some string he bought from Kmart to find out how tall the proposed footbridge would have to be.

At high tide, the Route 105 bridge was 27 feet above the water, so the Peconic River bridge would not need to be any taller than that in order to avoid obstructing boat traffic, Mr. Scheiderman said.

tgannon@timesreview.com

07/12/13 8:00am
07/12/2013 8:00 AM
TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Route 24 in Riverside, where a new 'Main Street' is envisioned.

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Route 24 in Riverside, where a new ‘Main Street’ is envisioned.

New technologies in wastewater treatment could allow a small sewer plant to be built in Riverside for just $2 million — infrastructure that would be key to advancing efforts to transform a blighted stretch of Route 24 into a bustling main street and revitalize the surrounding area, says Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk).

Riverside foot bridge to Riverhead

GRAPHIC COURTESY JAY SCHNEIDERMAN | The footbridge that will cross the Peconic River and connect Riverside to downtown Riverhead.

Mr. Schneiderman also says there could be county grant money available to cover a chunk of that cost.

Grant money may also be available for two other proposals Mr. Schneiderman recently made as part of a vision he  and town officials share for the beleaguered Riverside hamlet: a walking path to the nearby Peconic River and a footbridge over the river to downtown Riverhead. (See digital rendering on page 28.)

For an area with such a high water table, sewer treatment is necessary for any building improvements, and a traditional sewage treatment plant for Riverside would cost more than $10 million, Mr. Schneiderman said, pointing to Riverhead Town’s sewage treatment plant, which cost $8.75 million to build in 2000. Upgrades to the existing Riverhead plant, needed to satisfy state requirements, are expected to cost upwards of $20 million.

Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) has told the News-Review federal money would be necessary to build a full-scale plant in Riverside, and that such funding has dried up.

The water table and proximity to the environmentally sensitive Peconic River have put huge constraints on most development efforts in Riverside. As a result, most large scale building proposals there have failed and many buildings in the area are now vacant or boarded up.

The grant money Mr. Schneiderman said might be available comes from the county’s quarter-percent sales tax, which raises money for drinking water protection. Each year, $2 million is available for alternative sewer systems —  and that money went unused last year, he said, bringing the available total to $4 million.

“I think if you have a low pocket of commercial development, it makes sense to have a small facility to handle it,” he said. “It would need far less land and far less piping. In Riverside, I think it could be done for $2 million.”

In June, Mr. Schneiderman unveiled a 3-D computer graphic “vision” for the area near the Riverside traffic circle at a meeting of the Flanders Riverside and Northampton Community Association.

He proposed creating a new downtown commercial area for Riverside just east of the traffic circle, with three-story mixed use buildings on the south side of Flanders Road, across from McDonald’s; a restaurant at the former Riverboat Diner property; a supermarket where the Budget Host Inn is; a walking path from Flanders Road to the Peconic River; and a footbridge over the river into Riverhead Town.

Mr. Schneiderman’s plan also showed a realignment of the traffic circle as well as one small sewer plant to serve just this small business district. He said other small decentralized plants could be built elsewhere in the future if the business area grows.

“I don’t believe that any of this can unfold without sewers,” he said.

Last year, the county approved a $750,000 grant to fund a study investigating the feasibility of a Riverside sewer district. That study is being conducted by the engineering firm Camp Dresser & McKee and is expected to be complete in the fall.

In the early meetings on the sewer district proposal in 2011, officials were considering a number of options, including a sewer district stretching from Riverside into the Bay View Pines section of Flanders, which would serve homes and businesses.

The likely high cost of that plan led officials to shrink the scope of the project to just the Riverside business district, including the former drive-in site where an industrial park and hamlet center are planned to the east.

But Mr. Schneiderman’s plan covers an even smaller area and seeks to create a Riverside business area in the area by the traffic circle that extends only as far east as Vail Avenue.

The plan showed one small sewage treatment plant, designed to serve only this small area.

Mr. Schneiderman said there are new technologies that allow for smaller “package” plants to serve commercial areas. These include the Membrane Bioreactor (MBR) technology and a system called Nitrex, made by a company in Boston.

Kevin McAllister of Peconic Baykeeper, an environmental watchdog group that has been critical of nitrogen discharge levels into the Peconic Bay system and into groundwater, said in an interview that the Nitrex system is the best he’s seen at removing nitrogen from sewage discharge.

High nitrogen levels will trigger algae blooms, which will lead to low dissolved oxygen levels and fish kills, Mr. McAllister said.

The Peconic River, Saw Mill Creek, Meeting House Creek, Reeves Bay and the western part of Flanders Bay are all considered impaired water bodies by the state because of too much nitrogen, he said. And since the Peconic River is groundwater fed, failing cesspools along the river will eventually lead to pollution of surface waters too, he said.

In the past, the Suffolk County health department has been reluctant to approve alternative sewer systems that remove nitrogen, Mr. McAllister said.

But the health department earlier this year approved four alternative on-site systems for sewage disposal, including Nitrex.

Pio Lombardi, the president of Nitrex, said in an interview last Wednesday that the Suffolk County standard for nitrogen in drinking water is 10 milligrams per liter, but that Nitrex has undertaken projects that brought levels much lower.

“We have a project in Malibu, Calif., in the low 1’s and we know what to do to get it below 1 [MPL],” Mr. Lombardi said. The Nitrex system can be placed under parking lots, which saves money on land acquisition, he said.

Asked if the system would work in areas with high groundwater tables, like Riverside, Mr. Lombardi said his company has installed systems in such areas, but it does increase the construction costs, and a a dewatering system would be necessary.

“We generally need six to eight feet above groundwater, but we can also built them above ground.”

Ben Wright, an engineer with the county Department of Public Works, which also is working on the Riverside study, said at the recent civic meeting that Membrane Bioreactor technology is what Riverhead Town is going to use in its sewer upgrade.

“That’s the best quality you can get,” he said.

Southampton Town, meanwhile, is issuing a request for qualifications from developers, similar to what has been done to help advance revitalizations projects in Wyandanch and around the Ronkonkoma train station, said Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst

“The municipality would invite developers and businesses to come to us and give us proposals,” she said. This way, she added, improvements could be funded by private developers rather than government funds.

“There are lots of ways to skin this cat,” she said. “Our goal has been to approach as many angles as we can.”

While most of Mr. Schneiderman’s proposals for Riverside come as part of a  “vision” and are not actual development proposals, he does have the support of Flanders Riverside and Northampton Community Association members.

“Absent the possibility of linking up with the existing treatment plant at Riverhead, my personal preferred option, I completely support creating a small, modern plant in Riverside to handle only the flow that might be generated along Route 24 in the commercial area,” said FRNCA president Vince Taldone.

Riverhead Town would need additional land it doesn’t have in order to expand its own sewer plant to handle Riverside, said Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter. In addition, the Riverhead Town Board members serve as commissioners of the sewer district, and Mr. Walter added that he would not support expanding into Southampton Town if it involved giving up that control.

Mr. Taldone said having a sewer system in Riverside “will enable new, higher-water-usage businesses to open and will enable some additional residential development to create a nice mixed-use redevelopment.”

Meanwhile, in other efforts to advance the vision for Riverside, the FRNCA group is seeking $1.45 million in grants to build a footbridge over the Peconic River, connecting county parkland in Riverside to a section of downtown Riverhead near the Long Island Aquarium.

FRNCA also is backing a $50,000 grant application by Southampton Town and Suffolk County to create a walking trail from Flanders Road to the section of the riverfront where the bridge would go, should it get to that point.

Both proposals are elements of a 3D computer graphic “vision” for Riverside unveiled by Mr. Schneiderman at a June 10 FRNCA meeting.

Mr. Taldone, said the group applied for New York State Economic Development grants for the footbridge.

The area where the foot path is proposed was once part of a 20-acre site proposed for a hotel and convention center by Southampton Inn owner Dede Gotthelf in 2001. Ms. Gotthelf’s plan ran into numerous obstacles, and she ended up selling all but about six acres to Suffolk County as open space.

While that land is now considered parkland, Mr. Taldone said it’s still largely inaccessible to the public.

“People in Riverside can’t get down to the water without climbing through the weeds,” he said.

The state grants are expected to be very competitive.

“We’re up against some really great applications,” he said.

tgannon@timesreview.com

06/21/13 7:00am
06/21/2013 7:00 AM
TIM GANNON PHOTO | Route 24 in Riverside, where a new 'Main Street' is envisioned.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Route 24 in Riverside, where a new ‘Main Street’ is envisioned.

A high water table and high number of vacant buildings are among the reasons some Riverside business and property owners give for why it’s been so hard to develop that area of Southampton Town commercially.

Those comments come a week after Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) unveiled a vision for Riverside, including a reconfigured traffic circle, in a 3D computer graphic presentation before the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association.

The proposal was just a vision, he stressed to the civic members, designed to jump-start a planning process, rather than an actual development proposal.

He suggested that the commercial corridor on Flanders Road, across from McDonald’s, contain two- and three-story buildings with retail shops and cafes on the ground floor and apartments above them.

He likened the plan’s “Main Street” component to downtown Sag Harbor.

Mr. Schneiderman also suggested working with the owners of the Budget Host Inn and the vacant building that once housed the Riverboat Diner to try to reroute Riverleigh Avenue (County Road 104) so it connects to Lake Avenue (County Road 63) instead of extending all the way to the five-pronged traffic circle. Officials would also try to convince the hotel owners to develop that property as a supermarket and try to re-establish a restaurant at the diner site.

The lawmaker said if there is no interest from those property owners, he would support making the traffic circle into a two-lane roundabout that remains connected to the five roads it now serves.

The legislator’s vision, which came out of meeting with civic and town leaders, also featured a walking trail to the Peconic River and a footbridge over the river into downtown Riverhead.

Mr. Schneiderman also stressed nothing could happen without a commercial sewage treatment facility, because of the environmentally sensitive nature of the land along the Peconic River, and he said cooperation from property owners is needed. Now would be a good time to propose such a plan, he said, because many of the buildings in the area are boarded up or for sale.

Shep Scheinberg, whose family owns the Riverboat Diner property, which has sat vacant for several years, said by email that this property is on the market for lease or sale. He said a bank had shown interest in the site but, after hearing a county Department of Public Works presentation on options for improving the flow of traffic in the circle, “they got cold feet, as the state of our property was uncertain.”

Mr. Scheinberg said he and his family have had a number of meetings on this subject with the county and town, the last being on May 31. After that meeting, he said, “it was concluded and agreed by all parties that the option of going through our property was no longer a consideration.”

Because of this, Mr. Schneiderman said, “the county is now reaching out to the owner of the adjacent motel property to see if we can begin a discussion that would redevelop that property as a supermarket and allow the road connection.”

The owner of the Budget Host Inn could not be reached for comment.

David Abrahamson, a co-owner of the former 99 Cent Store across from McDonald’s, said the ownership group is still trying to find a tenant for that building, which has been vacant for about a year and a half.

He said Mr. Schneiderman’s vision for the Flanders Road corridor “would be pretty difficult” without sewer plants.

“One of the issues is the high water table in the area,” he said in an interview. “Anything that comes in there that isn’t dry goods is an issue, because you would need to build an above-ground septic system.”

He said the property is only about one foot above groundwater.

The existing septic system is only good for the sinks and bathrooms, Mr. Abrahamson said. “If you’re preparing foods, you need an above-ground septic system, and that could cost at least $50,000.”

Mr. Schneiderman has secured a $250,000 county grant to study the possibly of building a sewage treatment plant in Riverside that would make it easier to develop properties like Mr. Abrahamson’s. However, the cost of the system isn’t known yet because officials must still decide how large an area would be covered by the proposed sewer district. The smaller the area, the less the district would cost, he said.

William Eves, who owns the building in between the New York State Police barracks and the vacant Getty station on the Riverside traffic circle, said he has town approval for a 15-seat fast food restaurant in that building. He says there has been a lot of interest in leasing the building, but that he wants to sell it. But there hasn’t been as much interest from prospective buyers, he said.

Mr. Eves said he thought the area was rebounding a few years ago but that progress stopped. He feels that being surrounded by vacant building like the former Getty site and the Riverboat Diner site also hurts attempts to redevelop.

And like Mr. Abrahamson, Mr. Eves said the low water table is a major obstacle. His property is about four feet above groundwater and, he says, the area was apparently raised many years ago because there’s a concrete road buried under the current road.

Mr. Eves said he believes the Getty station, which has been closed for about two years, should be torn down. He thinks the previous plan to build a hotel and conference center along the river, as well as a plan from the 1990s for a Long island Maritime Museum, were what the area needed.

The hotel plan, proposed by Southampton Inn owner Dede Gotthelf, ran into environmental issues and Ms. Gotthelf sold much of the land to the county as open space. The Maritime Museum plan, for the same site, never came to fruition.

Mr. Eves also had another proposal for Riverside, which probably wouldn’t fly with people in neighboring Flanders.

“If you want an entryway into Southampton Town, put the Big Duck in the traffic circle,” he said. “Do you know how beautiful that would look? Put it right in the middle of the traffic circle.”

Flanders residents had lobbied officials to move the duck back to its current location in Flanders several years ago, after it had spent more than a decade at a site near the Hampton Bays border.

Mr. Schneiderman’s proposal received support from FRNCA members, although a comment was attributed to FRNCA president Vince Taldone in last week’s News-Review in which Mr. Taldone said he doubted the plan would ever happen in his lifetime. Mr. Taldone says he was actually referring to a proposal voiced by FRNCA member Chris Sheldon — and not to Mr. Schneiderman’s proposal. Mr. Sheldon had suggested moving Flanders Road behind stores and away from the river in order to create more waterfront.

Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) said there are several sources within the state of possible funding for a sewer project in the Riverside area, but added that it “would be a very costly project.”

“I doubt there would be enough state and local money to do such a project alone,” he said, speaking strictly of the sewer component of the vision. “In the old days, 70 percent would have been paid under the Federal Clean Water Act. The funding no longer exists.

“Some sort of federal help would be needed to make this a viable project financially.” Mr. Thiele said.

tgannon@timesreview.com

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Legislator Jay Schneiderman presented his vision for Riverside at a civic meeting last week.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Legislator Jay Schneiderman presented his vision for Riverside at a civic meeting earlier this month.

06/21/13 6:59am

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