Residents in the troubled hamlet of Riverside offered emotional pleas before the Southampton Town Board last Thursday to support the Riverside Revitalization Action Plan.
At the public hearing, about 35 speakers discussed Riverside Rediscovered’s proposals to revive the hamlet in Southampton Town’s northwest corner.
“We need this,” said Susan Tocci of Flanders, noting that she’s lived in the area for almost 50 years. “I’ve seen this area decline. It went from a wonderful neighborhood to a neighborhood where I don’t even want to drive down Flanders Road because of what I have to look at. … We are now the most economically distressed neighborhood and that is not where I want to live.”
The zoning proposed under the plan would result in an estimated 2,267 additional dwelling units in Riverside and would add 28 students to the school district annually over 10 years, which concerned some speakers.
The public hearing also dealt with the draft environmental impact studies of that zoning and with the Brownfield Opportunity Area study of Riverside, all of which are being undertaken concurrently.
Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said she expects the Town Board to vote on the zoning by the end of the year.
“We are trying to create a gateway to the East End,” said Sean McLean of Flanders, who is Renaissance Downtowns’ vice president of planning and development. He stressed that the whole plan is dependent on getting adequate sewage treatment.
The project was initiated in 2013, following years of planning studies for Riverside hamlet that were largely never enacted. After issuing a request for proposals, Southampton Town hired Renaissance Downtowns of Plainview as its “master developer” for Riverside in 2014.
“There will be an increase in traffic, but that’s the traffic I want to see,” Ms. Tocci said. “Not the drug dealers and the prostitutes.”
Dawne Gilliam recalled how her 21-year-old daughter was struck by a stray bullet in 2003 and killed inside Lena’s, a nightclub that used to be on Flanders Road in Riverside. Ms. Gilliam said she is fighting to ensure that the new owners of the building do not receive a liquor license. During that process she became aware of Riverside Rediscovered.
“We need this here,” she said. “I was raised in the Flanders area and my children and grandchildren were raised here and, in all of that time, nothing has changed for the positive.”
Kathy Kruel of Flanders got emotional when she described how her nephew became involved with drug dealers and was murdered a block from her house in 2000.
Ms. Kruel said she started a Flanders Neighborhood Watch 25 years ago because the area was infested with drug dealers and people didn’t come out of their houses.
“I’m for this project,” she said. “We need to clean up this area.”
The plans for Riverside, which a recent Suffolk County planning department study deemed the most economically distressed hamlet in the county, call for optional overlay zoning that would reward landowners who group properties together by allowing them additional building height and density, according to Mr. McLean.
Landowners who don’t want the optional zoning can keep their current zoning.
Representatives of Riverside Rediscovered, the name residents chose for the project, gathered feedback from residents online, in person and at an office on Peconic Avenue to determine what they’d like to see in Riverside.
The plans would allow greater density and height for buildings nearest the Riverside traffic circle, with both decreasing the farther they get from the circle.
The proposed zoning would also regulate the architecture of the buildings and require them to be set close to the road.
Those that opt for the new zoning will get greater building opportunities, but that also will come with greater environmental requirements, according to Mr. McLean.
The environmental impact study for the Riverside project estimates the new zoning would result in an additional 134,000 square feet of retail space, 62,000 square feet of new office space, 97 new hotel rooms and 2,300 more dwelling units, along with additional nursing home space, artist lofts, a parking garage, an indoor skating rink, 1,600 parking spaces and additional cultural space.
That all sounded too big for some residents.
“This sounds really nice, but I’m not so sure about the impact this is going to have on the area,” said Chrissy Prete of Flanders, a former Riverhead school board member. She said residents have been fighting the high taxes that people in the Southampton Town portion of the Riverhead School District have paid over the years, and additional development will increase those taxes.
Ms. Throne-Holst said the type of building proposed by the plan will create a tax base to lower the school tax rate.
Ms. Prete said she’s been trying to get the area upzoned to permit less development.
“This is allowing a tremendous amount of density and a tremendous amount of development that is starting to look like Queens,” Ms. Prete said. “I don’t think this would happen in any other place in the Town of Southampton. It’s huge, the density is amazing.”
Nikki Sacco of Flanders voiced similar concerns.
“I too come from Brooklyn,” she said. “I live out here for a reason and it’s not to see five-story buildings as I drive by.”
Kevin McAllister, executive director of Defend H2O, a nonprofit environmental group, supported the plan for its call for an advanced sewer treatment system for the area and protection of wetlands.
“I think it’s outstanding what’s being proposed,” he said.
Renaissance Downtowns is not being paid by Southampton Town but rather, is a for-profit company that will only make money if it develops land in Riverside, according to Mr. McLean.
Renaissance will have the right to buy 10 acres of town-owned property in Riverside through an appraisal process, but the majority of the 340 acres in the redevelopment area are privately owned.
Photo: Sen McLean of Renaissance Downtowns speaking at Southampton Town’s public hearing on the Riverhead Revitalization plan last Thursday at Phillips Avenue School. (Credit: Tim Gannon)