Riverhead Town is now in contract to acquire the unused Second Street firehouse in a land swap with the Riverhead Fire District, according to town Supervisor Sean Walter, who is pushing a plan is to demolish the building and use the space as parking for downtown businesses.
In particular, he’s hoping the added parking will benefit a multiplex movie theater he’s been trying to lure downtown.
Other Town Board members had a variety of opinions on the subject. Councilman John Dunleavy is opposed to knocking down the building and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said it should be done only as a last resort, if parking is not available elsewhere.
Riverhead firefighters stopped using the Second Street building after the district built a new headquarters on Roanoke Avenue.
Town officials have tried to keep details of the movie theater plan under wraps until some paperwork is signed, but Mr. Walter said he’s hoping to be able to announce something soon and feels the availability of additional parking at the firehouse property could help move a potential development deal forward.
“It’s about an acre of property and could provide 125 to 150 parking stalls for downtown,” Mr. Walter said. “The theater would need about 300 to 400 stalls, depending on the size of the theater, and there are about 225 parking spaces behind the theater and across the street.”
The town will acquire the firehouse in exchange for water district property on Route 58, near Stotzky Park. Firefighters have used that land for years as a training grounds and as the site of the department’s annual motorized drill competition.
“We’re hoping to have this wrapped up soon,” Mr. Walter said of the land swap.
Initially, the town hoped to convince the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance to move into the former firehouse, but ambulance officials opposed that plan, saying Second Street is not a good, location for an ambulance barn given its distance from the Route 58 artery. Ambulance officials have been hoping the town will allow them to expand their existing headquarters on Osborn Avenue.
The fire department has vacated the Second Street building completely, according to fire district commissioner Mark Conklin, although the town police department has been using it for storage of a rescue boat.
“We need to see if we’re getting a movie theater first before we knock that building down,” Ms. Giglio said. “And even if we do, it’s going to take time to approve it, so we can use the firehouse for something else in the interim. I Think we should take that building down as a last resort if we can’t find parking anywhere else. But if it’s something that helps get a theater here, take it down.”
“We never, never spoke about taking it down,” Mr. Dunleavy also said, adding that he wouldn’t support razing the building for parking.
“I think it’s a historic building,” he said. “I could never vote for knocking it down.”
Mr. Dunleavy noted that although he think it’s historic, te firehouse, a red brick structure that was pieced together in sections over decades, is not officially designated as an historic building.
Councilman Jim Wooten said he’d have no problem knocking the building down for parking, because the building “has problems and is not an historic building.” But he said that while downtown needs parking, he doesn’t think downtown Main Street is the right spot for a multiplex because a 14-screen theater will require more parking spaces that downtown can provide.
Councilman George Gabrielsen said he doesn’t think the additional parking is needed now, but that if it were needed to attract a movie theater, he’d support demolition of the firehouse.