New historic district proposed around downtown Riverhead

Rendering of Preston House rehab and five-story hotel proposed by Joe Petrocelli
Courtesy rendering of Preston House rehab and five-story hotel proposed by Joe Petrocelli

Second Street and parts of Ostrander Avenue could join downtown Main Street on the National Register of Historic Places, under a proposal from the Riverhead Town’s Landmarks Commission.

But unlike a 2014 attempt to add parts of Main Road in Aquebogue and Jamesport to the National register, which met with opposition from property owners and was eventually dropped, officials this time hope to earn the support of those in the area.

Richard Wines, who chairs the town’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, asked for and received permission from the Town Board Wednesday to hold a public information meeting on the proposal on May 4 in an effort to gauge public opinion on the idea of nominating the Second Street/Ostrander Avenue properties. A mailing will go out to property owners in the district in mid-April.

“Assuming you feel this feels like there’s support here, then we’ll move ahead with the formal nomination,” Mr. Wines said at the Town Board work session Wednesday. After that, property owners will be notified by the state historic preservation office, which was the first notification residents got in the 2014 effort, officials said.

The proposed district would run the entire length of Second Street, from Griffing Avenue to Ostrander Avenue, while stretching north to include parts of the south part of Northville Turnpike between Union Avenue and Roanoke Avenue. A portion of the proposed district would also stretch as far south as East Main Street, where it would be adjacent to properties already in the National Register. Parts of downtown were designated as a historic district in 2012.

“The boundaries of the proposed district weren’t determined by us,” Mr. Wines said. “We have to work with the state Historic Preservation office and they determine it. It has to include all of the buildings they think are historic.”

Among the buildings it would include are the Preston House, across from the Hyatt East End hotel, which was built in 1905 and is being currently restored by Hyatt principal Joe Petrocelli, who has asked that the building be designated a town landmark; the Second Street firehouse, built in the 1930s and now being restored by Suffolk Theater owner Bob Castaldi; and the Second Street Post Office, which is already in the National Register as an individual location.

All told, the proposed boundaries would include 147 properties, of which 133 contain structures built between 1840 and 1940, according to Mr. Wines.

Only five percent of the buildings in the proposed district are less than 50 years old, and 97 percent of them are considered historic properties, he said.

About 74 percent of the properties are income-producing properties that qualify for state and federal tax credits for restoration work on the structures.

Properties within the proposed district will be able to qualify for state and federal tax credits for restoration work on their properties, and they also would be eligible for grant money, Mr. Wines said.

“Being in the Historic District will increase resale values, benefit local businesses, create jobs and bring no restrictions for property owners,” Mr. Wines told the Town Board.

Historic properties are generally accepted into the state Historic Register prior to being accepted into the National Register.

According to pamphlet published by the town’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, “Whenever a property owner requests a building or demolition permit for a designated structure or one in a historic district, the building department automatically notifies the (Landmarks) Commission.”

The Commission has 60 days to approve, modify or disapprove the application, and the Town Board may call a hearing to review Commission actions, according to the commission.

The designation only requires commission approval for alterations that normally require a building permit, and doesn’t dictate architectural style for new buildings within the district, according to officials. It also doesn’t impact interior renovations.

Supervisor Sean Walter asked if having a National Register designation could impede town efforts to acquire additional surface parking downtown, Mr. Wines said it would make no difference, because the town already considers properties in this area to be historic as a result of a 1977 survey. So any property where development is proposed would need to be studied for its potential historic value either way, he said.

Mr. Petrocelli, a co-founder of the Atlantis Marine World aquarium on East Main Street, (now called Long Island Aquarium), plans to reopen the Preston House as a restaurant and plans to build a five-story hotel just north of it. He said he has acquired the land behind the Preston House and is hoping to acquire the property to the west.

Mr. Petrocelli said he originally planned to demolish the Preston House until he learned of its history, and has since been working with Mr. Wines to restore it to what it originally looked like.