Riverhead Town officials voice support for footbridge proposal

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

Riverhead Town officials interviewed this week voiced mostly support for a plan to build a footbridge over the Peconic River, connecting downtown Riverhead to a section of county parkland in Riverside.

But the Riverhead officials also had questions.

The bridge proposal will be discussed at Thursday’s Riverhead Town Board work session, starting at 10:20 a.m. in Town Hall.

It was als0 discussed at last Thursday’s Southampton Town Board work session, where it received mostly support.

The bridge is being planned by the Flanders Riverside and Northampton Community Association and Southampton Town, where officials are hoping to quickly apply for a $1.145 million state grant that would allow Suffolk County’s $2.4 million cost of acquiring the land in 2011 to count as a matching component of the grant.

The grant has a Aug. 12 deadline for submissions.

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Ray Pickersgill, president of the downtown Riverhead Business Improvement District management association. “They are going to make a little park over there [in Riverside] and will put have a gravel parking lot on Flanders Road. It’s going to be a place where you can walk and sit in a park and then cross over to the Riverhead side.”

“I think it is going to be good,” he continued. “They have to do something over there, and obviously they have to start somewhere, so this may be a good idea to start with.”

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said he hasn’t heard much feedback from Riverside residents on the bridge proposal, but added, “I don’t necessarily see it as a bad thing. Anything that causes positive things to happen in Riverside will cause positive things to happen in Riverhead.”

However, he added, “I’ve been wrong before.”

“I think for a long time we’ve been wanting to get some synergy between Riverside and Riverhead because it really is one common area,” Riverhead Councilman Jim Wooten said. “I am not opposed to a footbridge, I  just want to know where it is going. I hope the foot bridge would be part of a bigger plan for Riverside revitalization.

“If that’s the catalyst to get that moving forward, then I have no problem with it.”

Mr. Wooten questioned where people would park to access the Riverside end of the bridge and he questioned if it would need an elevator to be handicapped accessible.

“It’s an interesting concept but they need to show us the details and ‘show me the money,” Riverhead Councilman George Gabrielsen said.

Riverhead council members Jodi Giglio and John Dunleavy couldn’t be reached for comment, although Mr. Dunleavy had raised some concerns during an interview on WRIV 1390 radio Friday.

In the radio interview, he said no one had contacted the Riverhead Town Board about the bridge and said it would have to be high enough to avoid impeding boat traffic downtown.

Vince Taldone, president of FRNCA, has said the bridge would be the same height as the Route 105 bridge, and he said the initials estimates took into account an elevator on the Riverhead side.

“It is a tight squeeze on the Riverhead side because we can’t give up any parking,” Mr. Taldone said. “Every spot must be retained.”

He added that there’s a chance the footrbidge might not need an elevator.

On the Riverside side of the bridge, he said, there would be parking on the street, parking on the redeveloped south side and possibly a small amount of parking on the park site itself.

Town officials and county Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) have envisioned a redeveloped business district on the south side of Flanders Road in Riverside, near the traffic circle — and the walking bridge over the river, along with a walking path through the county parkland leading to the bridge, are part of that plan.

The parkland where the path is proposed is the same land where Southampton Inn owner Dede Gotthelf had once proposed a hotel and conference center, but ended up selling the land to the county as open space.

Southampton Town officials are planning to issue a request for proposals soon seeking developers who might be interested in building in the proposed Riverside business district.

At last Thursday’s Southampton Town work session, officials stressed they should get the grant first and then worry about the design of the bridge afterward, since the deadline for the grant is nearing.

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

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