Downtown Riverhead business owners concerned that a proposal to extend a three-hour parking limit would affect their customers spoke out at a public hearing Tuesday night at Riverhead Town Hall.
Delays in construction have pushed the opening date for Joe’s Garage & Grill to late summer, the downtown Riverhead restaurant’s executive chef said Friday.
Eddie Gallagher, who is professionally known as “Chef Eddie G,” said “a little bit of everything” contributed to the hold-up, including inclement weather and the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
The car-themed eatery on Peconic Avenue was originally slated to open this spring, but in May the launch was pushed to July. The restaurant could open as soon as the first week of August.
The restaurant will be located below the Summerwind Square apartments.
A construction crew was at Joe’s Garage & Grill Friday working on finishing the back bar, sound systems and lighting and testing equipment, Mr. G. said.
The Summerwind Square apartments in downtown Riverhead are almost ready for occupancy.
Developer Ray Dickhoff said Wednesday that construction in the 52-unit complex on Peconic Avenue is nearing completion and tenants can begin moving in this July.
“We’re getting young, professional people,” Mr. Dickhoff said of Summerwind’s 35 applicants. “We have an architect, we have people from Peconic Bay Medical Center, and we have local managers from retail stores.”
The apartment complex is located next to Bridgehampton National Bank. Joe’s Grill and Garage, a restaurant slated to open in July, is housed beneath the apartments.
Mr. Dickhoff said noise from the car-themed restaurant shouldn’t pose a problem.
“The floor separating the commercial space from the living space is a concrete floor,” Mr. Dickhoff said. He added that all floors and walls are fully insulated and the windows also help keep out street noise.
The building offers studio, one and two-bedroom apartments. Each unit comes with a personal balcony and many feature views of the Peconic River and Grangebel Park. All apartments feature stainless steel appliances, oak-colored Pergo floors and tiled bathrooms. Most units have walk-in closets, and two-bedroom units have 1 1/2 bathrooms.
Hot water is included in the cost of rent, Mr. Dickhoff said, and there will be a coin-operated laundry room on the first floor, behind the main lobby. (Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported heat was included.)
Mr. Dickhoff said there are surveillance cameras “throughout the entire building,” and an office manager will be on duty in the main lobby six days a week. To gain access to the building, residents will need to enter a punch code. Each apartment door has its own unique code, Mr. Dickhoff said.
Apartment applicants must meet income guidelines based on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s area mean income for Nassau-Suffolk, which would be $74,125 for one household. Twenty-six apartments will be rented to tenants with household incomes of up to 80 percent of AMI ($59,300). Monthly rents at this income level will be $905 for an efficiency and $1,042 for a one-bedroom.
James Britz, senior vice president of the Long Island Housing Partnership, has previously said that twenty-three of the apartments are for households making between 80 and 100 percent of AMI. Monthly rents for these units are $1,137 for an efficiency and $1,300 for a one bedroom. Three apartments, all two-bedroom, will be available to households making between 100 and 120 percent of AMI, Mr. Britz has said. These will rent for $1,559 per month.
Joe’s Garage & Grill is under construction and won’t open its doors on Peconic Avenue in Riverhead until July, but until then, you can get a first look at exclusive photos of the car-themed restaurant. Eddie G, the restaurant’s executive chef, said Wednesday that the casual-style eatery will seat 189 people indoors and on a heated outdoor patio. Instead of windows, the restaurant has glass garage doors that open up.
In the Long Island Housing Partnership’s recent lottery for the 52-unit Summerwind Square apartments in Riverhead, only 22 applications were submitted, 17 of them from people living or working in Riverhead, according to LIHP senior vice president James Britz.
Mr. Britz said the May 8 lottery determined the order of preference for the 17 Riverhead residents first, followed by the five non-Riverhead residents. Those applicants will now be screened to make sure they meet eligibility requirements for the Peconic Avenue project, he said.
After that, he said, the remaining apartments will be rented on a first-come, first-served basis with no residency preference, so long as the applicants meet income requirements, until the 52 units are filled.
The Riverhead Town Board in February passed a resolution to “support” a 75 percent preference for applicants who live or work in town, but Supervisor Sean Walter said he’s uncertain if that resolution has any weight or is just an expression of support.
All lottery participants had to pay a $100 application fee to the LIHP and a $50 safe rent fee to Eastern Property Investor Consultants, which owns the project.
“I assumed that the lottery would be full, and that you’d have a packed house and about 100 applicants for 52 apartments,” Mr. Walter said. “But I also wasn’t aware that the cost to apply was so much. Maybe that dissuaded people from applying.”
He said he thought 75 percent of the occupancy would be town residents or employees.
The LIHP did say in the Summerwind application forms that applications received after May 1 “would be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis after lottery applicants have been assisted.”
The lottery gave preference to people living or working in Riverhead Town or the Riverhead School District, Mr. Britz said.
Applicants must also meet income guidelines based on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s area mean income for Nassau-Suffolk, which would be $74,125 for one household. Twenty-six apartments will be rented to tenants with household incomes of up to 80 percent of AMI ($59,300). Monthly rents at this income level will be $905 for an efficiency and $1,042 for a one-bedroom. Twenty-three apartments are for households making between 80 and 100 percent of AMI, Mr. Britz said. Monthly rents for these units are $1,137 for an efficiency and $1,300 for a one bedroom. Three apartments, all two-bedroom, will be available to households making between 100 and 120 percent of AMI, he said. These will rent for $1,559 per month.
One-bedroom units range from 635 square feet to 720 square feet, the two-bedroom units are 865 square feet, and studio apartments range from 365 square feet to 475 square feet, according to the LIHP.
A public hearing is set for April 16 on a proposal to institute three-hour parking limits for cars parked in a section of the lot south of East Main Street in downtown Riverhead.
The measure has the backing of the town’s parking district advisory committee, according to Ray Pickersgill, who is a member of that committee as well as president of the Business Improvement District management association.
The Town Board voted Tuesday to schedule the hearing, set to start at 7:15 p.m. in the Town Hall meeting room.
Councilman John Dunleavy, the Town Board liaison to the parking committee, proposed the limits in anticipation of the opening of the Summerwind Square apartment complex on Peconic Avenue.
The limits are designed to prevent apartment residents from parking in spaces immediately behind the East Main Street stores, Mr. Dunleavy said. Under the proposal, Summerwind residents would instead be able to park in spaces in the southern portion of the parking lot.
The proposed restricted area is described in the public hearing notice as “sixty parking stalls immediately south of the stores that front on the south side of East Main Street between Cody’s BBQ & Grill and Tweeds Restaurant, extending in a southerly direction, terminating at the light posts located in said parking lot.”
“There is already a two-hour parking limit in this area, but the town took the signs down because there was plenty of parking available,” Mr. Pickersgill said in an interview.
The prospect of the Summerwind opening changes that and makes the time limits necessary, he said.
South of the light poles, 115 spaces parking spaces are available where Summerwind residents can park day and night, Mr. Pickersgill said. Stores in the area have also agreed to have their employees park toward the south end of the lot, nearer to the river, he said.
But Ray Dickhoff, one of the Summerwind Square owners, said at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting that restaurants that book parties and live entertainment often do so for four hours.
Rather limit hours, he said, the town needs to come up with a plan to address downtown parking, moving forward, because the downtown zoning currently allows for up to 500 apartments.
Supervisor Sean Walter said the town will have to change that zoning because there’s not enough parking for 500 apartments in the area.
Councilman John Dunleavy is pitching an idea to enact three-hour parking limits for a section of the downtown’s riverfront parking lot immediately behind the stores on the south side of East Main Street.
“This is so the people who live in Summerwind, when it opens, don’t park there,” Mr. Dunleavy said.
Summerwind is a 50-unit apartment complex slated to open later this year.
Because it is in the town parking district, its residents can use the town parking lot for their cars. By limiting the section of the lot nearest to the stores to three hours, the apartment’s tenants would not be parking around the clock and taking spots from potential business customers, Mr. Dunleavy said.
The restricted area would include spots immediately behind Cody’s BBQ restaurant on the east side of the lot, and run west to the Summerwind complex.
The proposal would leave a number of parking space available to the south of the time-restricted area, where the tenants could park. Board members informally agreed with the proposal at a recent Town Board work session.
For probably three decades, Riverhead Town officials, business owners and residents alike have been reaching for answers on how to bring foot traffic to what was once upon a time a bustling downtown area.
But it’s been a chicken-or-egg type of question for most downtown rejuvenation efforts, says Eric Alexander of Vision Long Island, a nonprofit group that advocates for so-called smart growth techniques in Long Island communities.
That is, do incoming businesses attract downtown residents, or does the appearance of downtown residents yield the opening of businesses?
“You need a healthy downtown to attract the people that want to live there, and then the other piece is you need enough people to make that healthy mix viable,” Mr. Alexander said. “I think you need to grow them both simultaneously. Maybe as you’re building your housing a coffee shop opens up.”
In Riverhead, some say that’s exactly what’s happening.
Between downtown building owners installing new apartments and the 52-unit Summerwind affordable apartment complex going up next to Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, some say the revitalization of downtown Riverhead has never been more palpable. This time around, said Martin Sendlewski, a partner in the Summerwind project, revitalization is “for real.”
“I’m a lifelong resident of Riverhead and through my years of involvement in committees and my current position on the [Business Improvement District], we’ve seen many good attempts at getting it right that haven’t come to fruition,” said Mr. Sendlewski, an architect. “The stars are aligned and downtown Riverhead is being revitalized before my eyes.”
Mr. Sendlewski said the Summerwind group’s acceptance of county grant money means agreeing to affordable apartment rental rates for 31 years after the Peconic Avenue building opens. The workforce housing project, which already has a bar and grill called Joe’s Garage lined up for the first floor, doesn’t allow subsidized or high-income renters, he stressed, but will target young professionals who can’t find quality, affordable rentals in the walkable downtown area.
“With the town’s master plan, which targets the downtown area for workforce housing, everything has fallen right into place,” he said.
Anthony Coates, who recently moved into newly renovated apartments above Parto’s Pizza on Main Street, said he’s lived in downtown Riverhead for about six years.
“I’ve always been in secluded areas on the water,” Mr. Coates said, “Here it’s a totally different lifestyle.”
Where Mr. Coates said he was once wedded to his vehicle, he is now a walker and biker who loves the convenience that comes with living downtown.
“I walk down my flight of stairs and across the street to the community garden, pick some lettuce and basil and then go back home to prepare a salad grown right across the street,” he said. “I didn’t get in my car, I didn’t have to subject myself to Route 58. I’m buying local and growing local.”
To Mr. Coates, a political adviser to the town’s supervisor, the chicken-and-egg predicament isn’t one at all. He sees the answer as being obvious: Nobody “came first,” the chicken just evolved that way.
“The supervisor has talked about building by building, block by block and if you’re going to be realistic, that’s the way it has to be done. In the past, we were treated to futurama photos of what Riverhead will look like in the future and it’s far-fetched because Riverhead is not some George Jetson village, it’s Riverhead,” he said. “You gotta do it the old-fashioned way, the way Patchogue did it, a little bit at a time. It’s not if you build it, they will come, it’s if they come, you’ll have to build it.”
To Mr. Coates, the Summerwind project and the possibility of other downtown business owners putting apartments into their historic buildings are vital to making a flourishing downtown a reality.
“I hear people say all the time, ‘Why don’t we get a Trader Joe’s?’ You’ll get it when they’re ready to be here; when there’s enough critical mass. I’m one piece of the mosaic of getting enough people down here to make it realistic.”
Downtown Riverhead is also on the verge of being nationally recognized as historic, according to Richard Wines, chairman of Riverhead’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, something that will make federal tax credits available for large-scale restoration projects.
“The designation was approved by the state earlier this year,” Mr. Wines said. “Approval by the Federal Department of the Interior is usually automatic, but takes a while.”
Mr. Wines said once the area is federally recognized, building owners can apply for both federal and state tax credits, at 20 percent each, on the costs of their projects, totaling 40 percent.
That’s a big chunk of tax credits for someone who is putting, say, $300,000 worth of work into a building restoration.
“It needs to be a major restoration, but buildings built from 1962 on apply, which encompasses a lot of the downtown buildings,” he said.
He said tax credits normally just apply for income-producing properties, like businesses and rental properties, but because the census district is below the state average, homeowners can apply if they bought and revamped a home within the district.
“We’re looking to get the area just north of downtown recognized as well,” he said.
Historic credits aside, there are also other ways business owners have been getting help with costly renovations, town officials said.
“We have main street grants and New York Division of Housing and Community Renewal money,” said Chris Kempner, Riverhead’s community development agency director. “We’ve been applying for and getting these grants since 2002 to target Main Street’s rejuvenation.”
Such grant money has benefited several downtown businesses, including the five office and living space duplexes Dee Muma built above her downtown restaurant, The Dark Horse, for which she received $150,000. The downtown Business Improvement District and Riverhead Industrial Development Agency share space in one of the duplexes, though it did not appear that anyone is living in the building yet, and Ms. Muma wouldn’t give specifics.
The effort to revamp and reopen the historic Suffolk Theatre received $250,000. And $2.4 million went to the East End Hyatt project at the Long Island Aquarium through a “Restore New York” initiative. The Summerwind project is getting over $2 million from the county.
“We’ve gotten so much money,” Ms. Kempner said. “It’s like $20 million,” all added up.
Despite the huge injection of state and county grant money, some downtown business owners are still wary about going ahead with upper-story apartment projects because of the extensive costs involved.
Jerry Steiner, owner of Allied Optical on Main Street, said he’s considering building four one-bedroom apartments or six mostly studio units, but remains unsure whether he’ll be able to undertake the project, even with help.
“What kills you is the fire suppression,” he said. “You need to open up the street, install central station arms for the sprinklers, the whole nine yards — you’re talking about $100,000 before you even get started.”
For Mr. Steiner it isn’t that grant money is available, but how much of it there is.
“It all boils down to if they give me enough money to make this economically viable then I’ll do it, but if they don’t then I’m probably going to pack it in and sell this place,” he said. “Politicians talk, but until you get the coin and you can bite it and know it’s gold, you don’t know what you got.”