Rediscovering Riverside: Plans unveiled after year-long study

A rendering of what Renaissance Downtowns foresees in Riverside's future. (Courtesy image)
A rendering of what Renaissance Downtowns foresees in Riverside’s future. (Courtesy image)

A new development plan for Riverside has been unveiled.

During Southampton Town Board’s meeting on Thursday, representatives from Renaissance Downtowns of Plainview gave a presentation on the proposal and highlighted several ideas, including:

•  A hamlet center near the traffic circle with three-story mixed-use buildings of stores, restaurants and apartments.

• A park that leads to a proposed pedestrian bridge over the Peconic River between Southampton and Riverhead towns.

• A boardwalk along the river.

• A waterfront promenade with restaurants.

• An area for the popular “Waterfire” show to take place in the river several times per month.

Proposed zoning changes are optional to landowners, said Sean McLean, Renaissance’s vice president of planning and development and a Flanders resident.

“We felt the benefits of the new zoning are substantial enough that people will want to enact it,” he said.

Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst describe that element as “crucial.”

The Southampton Town Board, left, met with developers Thursday to discuss a Riverside development plan. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

“The idea of allowing people to opt-in, but not ramming it down anyone’s throat, is part of the spirt of this,” she said. “We want to see this done by the end of the year.”

The new zoning also has tougher environmental and architectural requirements, Mr. McLean said, and allows a greater mix of uses so the property will remain sustainable as future markets change. Renaissance is also interested in acquiring about 10 acres of land from the town to redevelop.

In addition, he said the plan strives to not displace Riverside residents, which Councilwoman Bridget Fleming has been concerned about.

“We’ve seen in other communities, when things like this happen, the folks that lived there are no longer there,” she said.

Developers said the plan, which is contingent on sewers expanding into the area, was crafted with heavy input from residents. In order to gain feedback throughout the neighborhood, Renaissance conducted Internet polls and door-to-door surveys, and made public presentations.

About 25 people from the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton areas attended Thursday’s Southampton Town Board meeting to see the submitted plan.

Thea Cohen, who owns a store in Riverside, said she’s pleased with the proposal.

“It’s creating a new atmosphere, a new environment and new community for the people who have really suffered all these years with the crime and the drug scene,” she said.

Ms. Cohen said she also likes how the proposal includes a plan to bring the Riverside and Riverhead communities together.

Southampton Town has done numerous studies on how to fix the problems in Riverside in the past 20 years, but none of the recommendations from those studies ever came to fruition.

Southampton’s planning and development administrator Kyle Collins said most of those studies contained similar goals and objections for the area. Renaissance reviewed those studies and ultimately created an “action plan,” he said.

The Southampton Town Board has 45 days to review the draft proposal and to suggest changes. Environmental impact studies are also required, which Mr. Collins said should be completed by the fall and estimates public hearings to discuss those results will be scheduled sometime in November.

Once approved, Renaissance is expected to begin working with property owners to develop the land in accordance with the proposal, Mr. McLean said.

In 2012, Suffolk County conducted an analysis and ranked Riverside as the most economically distressed area in the county, just ahead of Wheatley Heights and Wyandanch.

Compared to other hamlets in the county, the study found Riverside has:

• The lowest median household income.

• The lowest median housing value.

• The third-highest unemployment rate.

• The second-highest number of people living below the poverty level.

• The second-lowest percentage of students who are high school graduates.

•The fifth-highest percentage of people on public assistance.

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Caption: The Southampton Town Board, left, met with developers Thursday to discuss a Riverside development plan. (Credit: Tim Gannon)