Downtown Riverhead’s 3-hour parking limit may expand

Downtown Riverhead parking

The three-hour parking limit on about 60 spaces in the riverfront parking lot between Pera Bell Food Bar and Dark Horse Restaurant would no longer be in effect from just 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. under a proposal being considered by the Riverhead Town Board.

It would instead be in effect 24 hours, seven days a week.

And that same all-day, three-hour limit would also be added to the riverfront parking spaces east of McDermott Avenue, including those near Turkuaz Grill, and the spaces between Salvation Army and the aquarium.

The Riverhead Town Board has scheduled a Dec. 1 public hearing at 2 p.m. on the proposed change.

About 100 spaces on the southern portion of the larger riverfront lot would not be subject to the parking limit.

Officials say parking spaces have been harder to find now that two apartment complexes have opened downtown, including the 52-unit Summerwind Square apartments on Peconic Avenue and the 19-unit Woolworth apartments on the north side of East Main Street.

Since those projects pay a tax into the town public parking district, as do many other downtown businesses, their residents can park in the town parking lots, and the complexes are not required to provide parking.

“Our spaces are constantly filled with long-term parking and we don’t get any for the restaurant,” Dee Muma, owner of Dark Horse Restaurant on East Main Street, said at a meeting of the downtown Business Improvement District Management Association, where the parking proposal was discussed last week.

“Store owners are complaining that their customers have no place to park,” Riverhead Councilman John Dunleavy said.

Earlier this month, the Town Board and the BIDMA, in an attempt to increase the number of parking spaces, agreed to lease 88 parking spaces downtown from Riverhead Enterprises, which owns a number of downtown buildings, including the former Sears building and the former Swezey’s furniture store, for $5,000 a year. The money will come out of BIDMA’s budget.

“I’m happy to have anything that will provide us with some parking,” said Ed Tuccio, owner of Tweeds Restaurant on East Main Street. “Every parking spot is equivalent to $150,000 sales per year.”

Ms. Muma said stopping the enforcement of the three-hour limit at 6 p.m. didn’t work.

That’s because if someone parked at 3:30 p.m. their three hours would extend past 6 p.m., when the enforcement stops, so they could just stay all night, she said.

Ray Pickergill, president of the BIDMA and a member of the town’s parking district advisory committee, said it was the latter group that recommended the change, which he also supports. 

Not everyone on the BIDMA likes the proposed restrictions.

“This is going to turn around and hurt us in the end,” said Ray Dickhoff, who owns Summerwind Apartments and the Joe’s Garage restaurant located below it. He feels that if someone goes to dinner and a show in downtown Riverhead, the process will take longer than three hours.

“There is a parking problem downtown,” Mr. Dunleavy said. “If this doesn’t work, we’ll try something else.”

Among the other options being discussed are the possibility of bringing back parking meters.

Downtown Riverhead had parking meters for many years but removed them all in 1997. At the time, officials said the cost of maintaining the meters wasn’t worth having them, especially since many were vandalized.

After the meters were removed, the town had a parking attendant mark tires to enforce limits, but that position was eventually eliminated from the budget.

The BIDMA has also discussed the possibility of building an above-ground parking garage. A recent study of the downtown area estimated that such a facility could cost about $25 million, though BIDMA officials think that estimate is on the high end.

The group asked newly appointed BIDMA member Ray Castronova, a builder, to get new estimates on the cost of an above-ground parking garage.

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Photo: The current three-hour parking limit between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. for a portion of the downtown riverfront parking lot could expand to 24 hours under a new plan proposed by the Riverhead Town Board. (Credit: Tim Gannon)