Extend commercial zoning district downtown, group advises

08/30/2014 11:00 AM |
The Riverhead Business Improvement District Management Association is recommending the town rezone property around Second Street for more commercial uses. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

The Riverhead Business Improvement District Management Association is recommending the town rezone property around Second Street for more commercial uses. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

The Riverhead Business Improvement District Management Association is recommending that the Town Board extend a downtown commercial zoning district beyond just the Second Street firehouse, as is currently proposed, to include other areas between Second Street and the Long Island Rail Road tracks. 

The recommendation comes in the wake of a Town Board decision to come to terms with Suffolk Theater owner Bob Castaldi to purchase the Second Street firehouse — with part of the deal being a re-zoning of that property, a move which would accommodate more uses. At its Aug. 19 meeting, the Town Board scheduled a public hearing for Sept. 16 on the matter.

“We think that this may be spot zoning,” said Larry Oxman, a member of the management association, who suggested that it take a position on the issue.

“We as a board should discuss it, because zoning is critical to what happens in the BID,” Mr. Oxman said at the association’s Aug. 20 meeting. “If you look at the zoning map, there is no other example of a zoning district with just one isolated piece [with a different zoning] in that zone.”

BIDMA members voted to urge the town to rezone the firehouse, as planned, and also consider shifting other properties west of the firehouse on East Second Street and south of the railroad tracks to the same commercial zoning category.

One BIDMA member opposed that suggestion and two others abstained.

“I’m against it, and I’ll bring a whole bunch of people who are against it,” said member Isabelle Gonzalez, who lives downtown and opposes the move on the grounds that it will allow commercial businesses to spread into what are now residential neighborhoods.

Members John Mantzopoulos and Bill Allan both abstained.

“You’ve got to give the residents a little buffer zone,” Mr. Mantzopoulos said.

The Riverhead Town Board has scheduled a Sept. 16 public hearing on a plan to rezone only the Second Street firehouse — not including any surrounding properties — to a category that will allow retail and apartment uses, among other things.

Supervisor Sean Walter said the board does plan to consider rezoning other property in that area in the future, after the firehouse issue is dealt with.

“We’ve discussed that and it’s definitely on the horizon,” he said.

The current proposal calls for rezoning the firehouse property from its current Downtown Center-4 zone to Downtown Center-1, which already covers most of downtown Main Street, stretching roughly from Griffing to Ostrander avenues.

The zone change was suggested by Suffolk Theater owner Bob Castaldi, who is proposing to buy the firehouse building, but not its parking lot, from the town for $500,000. He said in a recent interview that he requested the zone change because existing zoning does not allow many profitable uses. He argues that the potential profitability of whatever business eventually occupies the space is already affected because the more than 80-year-old building needs restoration work and that business will not have exclusive use of the adjacent parking lot, which has been added to the town’s public parking district.

As part of the proposed deal, the Town Board agreed to “consider” the zone change on its own motion — meaning the town would initiate the zone change application rather than the property owner, as is normally done. The public hearing is the first step in that process.

The DC-1 zone allows uses such as retail stores, banks, indoor markets, art galleries and cultural attractions such as museums and aquariums. It also allows five-story apartment complexes, with a cap of 500 units for the entire zoning district.

The DC-4 zone that currently covers Second Street allows uses like offices, single-family homes, townhouses, churches and funeral homes.

“It’s pretty limited,” Mr. Oxman said of the DC-4 zone.

Mr. Oxman and Councilman John Dunleavy, who is liaison to the BIDMA, both suggested that DC-1 zoning extend as far north as the railroad tracks.

The BID also is suggesting that the Town Board consider reducing the height limit on apartments in DC-1.

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