Guest spot: Downtown housing moratorium would go too far

Recently, the Riverhead Democrats have called for a moratorium on all new residential building in the downtown area. In my opinion this would be a mistake.

A necessary component of the revitalization of downtown Riverhead will require the development of reliable foot traffic to support current and future businesses.

More residential and workforce housing is needed as the two recent housing projects (Summerwind Square and Woolworth Apartments) are at full capacity. Instituting a moratorium on all new housing projects would be sending a message to developers that we are not looking to encourage growth in the downtown area. This is, in fact, the polar opposite of the preliminary findings of the New York State Department of State Brownfield Opportunity Area study – a study funded by a state grant, for the purpose of assessing development and revitalization of the downtown corridor.

I have reviewed the preliminary findings of the Brownfield Study which discusses other location-specific infrastructures that are also needed in the downtown area. Principally, the need for a grocery store to service downtown residents is a priority. People that live in apartment housing in a downtown area tend to shop for groceries and other staples on a daily basis, moreso than those located in a residential area. It is far more convenient to shop and carry a couple of bags every day or so than it is to do weekly shopping and have to make several trips up and down multiple floors of an apartment building from a parking lot, rather than a driveway. Toward that end, adding businesses such as a butcher shop or fish market would assist in ensuring that the needs of apartment dwellers are met. New housing, rather than a moratorium, will help further the conclusions and recommendations of the Brownfield study.

Riverhead Town has a Planning Board in place to monitor and approve new development in our town. I am confident in the Board’s ability and discretion with respect to further development, as I have no doubt that the members of the Planning Board have also reviewed the preliminary findings of the Brownfield study. Asking the Planning Board to request that the Town Board declare a moratorium on new residential housing is wrong, unnecessary, and could prove to be detrimental to our town by discouraging future attempts at development.

Now, having said all of this does not mean that every proposal submitted to the Planning Board and Town Board should be approved. Each and every development proposal must be assessed on its own merit. Currently, there is a proposal to build an apartment complex (Peconic Crossing) on the Long Island Science Center property located on West Main Street. In my opinion, this proposal exemplifies a situation which should be scrutinized closely, as there are a few negatives to this property being developed, as currently proposed.

The most important issue is fire safety. Although the proposal satisfies the required fire safety standards on paper, in reality, the proposed structure poses a hazard to its future occupants, not to mention the volunteer fire fighters attempting to extinguish, or control a serious fire. Riverhead Fire Chief, Joe Raynor, has been quoted as saying he would require access to the rear of the property with a ladder truck. Under the current proposal, it would be impossible for the fire department’s ladder truck, housed on Roanoke Avenue, to access the rear of the building to combat a fire. Instead, the firefighters responding from the Roanoke station would only have access to the front or side of the building. The smaller ladder truck that would have some access to the rear is housed in Calverton, and would take costly minutes to arrive at the scene.

Another issue with this complex would be the parking entrance and exit to the building. The entrance would be on West Main Street, and the exit is designed to empty onto Peconic Avenue. Anybody who travels through the downtown area on a regular basis knows that traffic backs up at the light on West Main Street going Eastbound at Peconic Avenue. The entrance to the proposed Peconic Crossing development would only aggravate an existing problem.

The Peconic Crossing proposal calls for 32 onsite parking spots which are necessary to help alleviate a parking problem that will soon exist, if Riverhead reaches its full potential under the Brownfield study. The only problem is there are 48 apartments currently proposed to be built. Possibly a downsizing the footprint of the proposal can solve some of these problems.

In sum, all development proposals should be fairly and fully considered, but the idea of a moratorium is just wrong. As the people that live here and know Riverhead best, we need to encourage proper development of the Downtown area, and address all proposals with open minds and a healthy dose of common sense. Why? Because Riverhead deserves better.

Tim Hubbard is a Republican candidate for Town Board.