New York State is offering a $10 million “downtown revitalization initiative” to 10 lucky communities — and local officials are eyeing that money as a means of funding part of the sewer system needed for recent revitalization plans in Riverside to move forward.
An “action plan” completed by the Plainview-based developer Renaissance Downtowns, which partnered with Southampton Town to organize the Riverside Rediscovered plan last year, called for new ground-floor businesses with apartments on upper floors throughout the hamlet, which in recent years has experienced blight and crime.
Officials, however, have acknowledged that none of those proposals can materialize unless the hamlet has improved sewage treatment to handle the increased density.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo initiated the statewide $100 million grant program earlier this year. It will have $10 million available for each of the 10 Regional Economic Development Councils in the state, one of which is Long Island. The local council would choose which downtown area would receive the money.
The grant is described by the state as “a comprehensive and coordinated multi-agency approach to transform long-forgotten areas into dynamic neighborhoods where tomorrow’s workforce will want to live, work, and raise a family.”
South Fork state Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) thinks Riverhead and Southampton towns should apply for the $10 million together, in light of Southampton Town’s ongoing efforts to revitalize Riverside and Riverhead Town’s efforts to revitalize its downtown area.
Mr. Thiele said Southampton’s goal of obtaining grant money for a Riverside sewer has other options. There’s also a water infrastructure grant the state legislature created that has about $175 million available statewide.
“The state has already been dealing with Ronkonkoma and Wyandanch and funding has been put into those areas,” Mr. Thiele said. “I think it’s the East End’s turn, and I think the best project out here is the Riverside project.”
Riverside, which has the same ZIP code, school district and fire district as Riverhead, yet is technically part of Southampton Town — is considered one of the most economically distressed areas in Suffolk County.
Southampton Town officials discussed the grants at a recent meeting of the town’s Riverside Economic Development Task Force.
“A lot of potential is there,” Southampton deputy supervisor Frank Zappone said. “I think we have a good foundation for competing for that kind of funding.”
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said Southampton officials have spoken to him about the grant, but Riverhead hasn’t applied for anything yet.
“I’d be hesitant to put in a grant application without a project, and Southampton has a bunch of projects,” Mr. Walter said Tuesday. “To put in a grant application and not have an actual plan as to what you’re going to construct doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”
Mr. Walter said he thinks Southampton’s plan to seek grant money for Riverside sewering projects is a good idea.
The Riverhead Business Improvement District Management Association did discuss applying for the $10 million in order to build a parking garage in downtown Riverhead in hopes of solving the area’s parking shortfall.
“This is free money,” BIDMA president Ray Pickersgill said at their meeting last Wednesday. “If we can get it to build a parking garage, we should just do it.”
The supervisor, however, if the town is going to seek grant money for parking, it should be used for surface parking, which would require the town to acquire additional properties. Mr. Thiele said Southampton’s goal of obtaining grant money for a Riverside sewer has options beyond the $10 million downtown revitalization grant opportunity. There’s also a water infrastructure grant the state Legislature created that has about $175 million available statewide.
“The state has already been dealing with Ronkonkoma and Wyandanch and funding has been put into those areas,” Mr. Thiele said. “I think it’s the East End’s turn and I think the best project out here is the Riverside project.”
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman has advocated sewering the area around the Riverside traffic circle first in order to allow commercial development to occur there. He said other areas should then be connected to sewers.
Currently, development near the traffic circle is thwarted by a high water table due to its proximity to the Peconic River and the Pine Barrens, around which development is tightly restricted.
Sean McLean, a vice president of Renaissance Downtowns, the company that was chosen by Southampton Town as its “master developer” of Riverside, also advocated a phased-in approach on sewers at an April 11 meeting of the town’s Riverside Economic Development Task Force.
Renaissance Downtowns, which oversaw the Riverside action plan, will only make money from the Riverside project if it develops property there.
Mr. McLean said all the expenses incurred from the new sewer systems will be the responsibility of the new developers — not Riverside residents.
“More property has been [sold] in the last year and a half in Riverside than probably in the last 20 years, and by people with clear intent to opt into the new zoning code and development,” Mr. McLean said.
Renaissance Downtowns has explained to these property owners they are under no obligation to work with Renaissance Downtowns in redeveloping their properties, but they are invited to do so if they choose.
Another option being considered for sewering the area near the traffic circle in Riverside is to extend the Riverhead Sewer District into Riverside.
Riverhead’s sewer district already serves the county center and jail, which are in Riverside.
This week, Mr. Walter said he isn’t opposed to connecting Riverside to Riverhead’s sewer treatment plant, though he doesn’t think the amount of sewer flow Riverhead can provide to Riverside will be enough.
Mr. Schneiderman thinks the 30,000 gallons per day initially discussed can provide enough sewerage to accommodate the area near the Riverside traffic circle.
A spokesman for the governor said he was unaware when the grant applications are due. However, he said the revitalization projects are expected to begin in 2017.
Click on top photo to enlarge: A bird’s–eye view of Peconic River between Riverhead Town (left) and Southampton Town (right). The image also includes the Riverside traffic circle, downtown Riverhead and Peconic Bay.
Middle photos: A rendering of what Renaissance Downtowns foresees in Riverside’s future (right); A man walks through an abandoned gas station at the Riverside traffic circle this spring (left).