Riverhead Town landed a hefty $5 million out of New York State’s $137.9 billion 2014-15 budget to upgrade and build new sewer infrastructure at the Enterprise Park at Calverton.
Riverhead Town landed a hefty $5 million out of New York State’s $137.9 billion 2014-15 budget to upgrade and build new sewer infrastructure at the Enterprise Park at Calverton.
A small sewage treatment plant specifically designed to handle the area between the Riverside traffic circle and nearby Vail Avenue, along with a possible supermarket farther south, would cost about $3.75 million, according to a draft study for a Riverside sewer district that was unveiled last week.
But since only 17 properties would be included in the proposed district, the cost of its operation and maintenance — plus debt service on initial construction costs — figures to be about $4,915 annually per residential property and $11,135 per commercial property. And those numbers are based on the project receiving $3 million in grants from Suffolk County’s alternative on-site sewage disposal system fund, officials said.
The county currently has about $4 million in that fund, said county Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), who represents the Riverside hamlet, the rest of Southampton Town and the South Fork.
Mr. Schneiderman has said in the past he’s confident he could secure a large sum of money for a Riverside plant.
About eight of the 17 parcels in the potential sewer district are residential, according to Mary Anne Taylor of the engineering firm Camp Dresser McGee, which is heading up the $750,000 study for Suffolk County.
“Dividing anything out over 17 properties is a lot of money,” she told those in attendance at last Monday night’s meeting of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association in Flanders.
However, if the sewage treatment system does what it’s intended to do, it will help establish additional viable commercial property and attract more businesses to Riverside.
Should that happen, the annual costs would be spread out over a larger base.
The sewer district is considered key to facilitating increased commercial development near the blighted area around the traffic circle, where a high water table and proximity to the Peconic River currently limit what can be built. Locals have long complained that the lack of a business center also contributes to higher property taxes for residential property owners in the area.
With the sewers, county and town officials envision a new Main Street-type commercial strip along Route 24 (Flanders Road), with three-story mixed use buildings along the south side of Flanders Road and a small supermarket near the existing Budget Host Inn — if property owners agree to develop their properties in such a fashion. The vision also calls for a footbridge over the Peconic River to downtown Riverhead.
“Right now, they are dividing numbers out over 17 properties,” Mr. Schneiderman said at the meeting. “But if this new Main Street actually happens, one property might have several storefronts and many apartments above it. And that’s when the numbers start to make sense. If you just left the single-family house there, you wouldn’t want to have that in the sewer district. It looks really expensive for a house.”
The sewer study began about three years ago, when officials initially possibly extending the district as far east as Longneck Boulevard in Flanders. That was found to be too large an area, and likely too expensive a project to ever get funding. So officials, following public meetings with FRNCA members, agreed to shrink the study area to cover just commercial property in Riverside.
But again, that was considered too large and unlikely to get funding. So earlier this year, at Mr. Schneiderman’s suggestion, the study scope was limited to just the south side of Flanders Road between Vail Avenue and the traffic circle and the area near the Budget Host Inn.
A list of potential locations for a sewage treatment plant had originally included about 10 sites, but that was narrowed down to one: an acre of Southampton Town-owned land behind the New York State Police barracks on Riverleigh Avenue.
Linking into existing sewer systems owned by Riverhead Town and Suffolk Community College also was considered, but those options were dropped because of lack of available capacity in those facilities, officials said.
The study is recommending use of a type of sewage treatment plant known as Membrane Bioreactor — and, specifically, the Nitrex system, which the county health department recently approved for use in Suffolk County. The Nitrex system, patented by Lombordo Associates of Massachusetts, requires very little space and has been shown to reduce nitrogen from sewage effluent at rates much better than what’s now required.
Nitrex president Pio Lombardo said in an interview in July 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, California, in the low 1’s and we know what to do to get it below 1 [MPL],” Mr. Lombardo had told the News-Review.
All property owners within the proposed district would have to first approve the creation of the district through a referendum, Ms. Taylor said.
From there, environmental impact studies, preparation and approval of the proposed district map, public hearings, development of construction documents, state and county review of the project, lining up of financing and issuing and awarding bids would likely be needed before construction begins, Ms. Taylor said.
“It probably wouldn’t be on line until about 2019,” she said.
“The next step is really up to the community to decide what to do,” she added.
“The purpose of the study was to find out what it would cost,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “Now we know what it costs. We have a very small area that’s being looked at for redevelopment and all those property owners have to now weigh in and see if this is something they want to go forward with.”
Mr. Schneiderman said officials also have to see how much grant money can be acquired for the project.
“That would affect the ultimate costs,” he said. “That’s something I will work hard on.”
Realtor Larry Oxman, who was at last Monday’s meeting representing a property owner in the proposed district, asked if there were any other affected property owners in the audience. There were none.
The complete study can be found online at http://suffolksewerstudy.cdmims.com.
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.
The first in a series of “stakeholders” meetings to find out the feasibility of building a sewer district in the Flanders-Riverside area will take place tonight at the David Crohan Community Center on Flanders Road in Flanders.
County Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) and representatives of the county’s Department of Public Works have organized the meeting, which will take place at 6 p.m.
The idea of a creating a sewer district in the Flanders-Riverside area has long been suggested as a way of bringing additional commercial development there, which has traditionally seen little commercial development because of environmental constraints. The lack of a commercial tax base in the area has also been blamed by some for creating the area’s high school tax rates.
A sewer district would theoretically allow more commercial building because sewage would be collected in the district and treated, rather than filtered through individual septic tanks and cesspools that drain into the ground.
The county’s Health Department regulates sewage issues and is often reluctant to approve projects that might create a lot of sewage in this area because of its proximity to the Peconic River and the Pine Barrens.
“The two main things that determine the growth of the community are its zoning, which says what’s going to happen where and to what degree, and the county health department,” Mr. Scheiderman said during the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association meeting in September. “How much capacity for sewage can that property handle? And without sewage treatment, in this area, it’s very little.”
Of tonight’s meeting, Mr. Schneiderman said, “This is an initial meeting—not a public hearing and not a presentation of intermediate results—to inform, understand the key issues, get initial input and build the momentum for a successful study.”
While Schneiderman’s office said the public is welcomed to attend the meeting, representatives from various “stakeholder” groups, such as the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association; the Riverside Revitalization Community Corporation; and Southampton Town have all been invited.
The county’s Department of Public Works recently began a study, which could take more than a year to complete, to determine the feasibility of creating a sewer district for the Flanders-Riverside Corridor. And even if it recommends building a sewer district, it could take more than ten years to complete it, officials said. Some concerns already raised is that the cost of creating a new sewer district could be prohibitive, which officials said is one of the issues the study will tackle.
“The study will tell you the costs,” Mr. Schneiderman told FRNCA. “In some ways, it’s too early to tell if a sewer district is a good thing.”
Read the Dec. 8 Riverhead News-Review for coverage of the meeting.
Where could new sewers be built in Suffolk County? How much would they cost? And, perhaps most importantly, where would the money come from?
Those were among several questions pondered by environmentalists, economic development agencies and elected officials at Suffolk County’s second so-called “sewer summit” at Suffolk Community College last Thursday.
County Executive Steve Levy, who hosted the summit, told a crowd of 120 that sewers improve water quality and boost economic development. “We want to get the word out that sewer is not a dirty word,” Mr. Levy said.
He wants to preserve the “treasured” undeveloped land in Suffolk, Mr. Levy said, but also expand current sewer districts.
“We want to improve our environment and provide for and promote properly-planned development that will help us move into the next century,” he said.
Since the first sewer summit in 2008, Suffolk County has dedicated $5.6 million to study the effects of potential sewers in 22 communities, including Riverside and Flanders, as well as Rocky Point.
One thing the studies are all finding: sewage isn’t cheap, at least the processing of it. A new sewage treatment plant at any of the studied communities would cost about $50 million.
Tom Isles, director of the Suffolk County Department of Planning, presented some ideas to help pay for the projects. For example, the county could use tax revenue from development projects to pay bonds issued to fund infrastructure, he said, or create an infrastructure bank.
The Southwest Sewer District, a pocket of the county with a high number of sewers, was funded through government subsidies which are no longer available.
David Calone, chair of the Suffolk County Planning Commission, recognized that some balk at the cost of building more sewers, but said “failing to protect the quality of our drinking water would be far more costly.”
Mr. Levy emphasized the need for everyone in the county to get on the same page in a collaborative, cooperative effort.
Currently, one-third of Suffolk County is sewered with 184 sewage treatment plants and 23 more in the planning stage.