Guest Spot: Apartment plans not right approach

Downtown Riverhead

Close your eyes. Go ahead, no one’s watching.

With your eyes shut, when I ask you to imagine what downtown Riverhead should be, what do you picture?

Is it more like Greenport? Or, is it Rego Park, Queens?

Should Main Street be a quaint, family-oriented spot that embraces our heyday and heritage? Or, should it be a collection of nameless, faceless five-story, publicly subsidized concrete apartment buildings without parking?

That is the stark choice currently before our Town Board, as it is about to decide what downtown will look like for generations to come.

As the debate heats up over Main Street’s future it is important to focus on Supervisor Sean Walter’s dangerous plan for downtown. Consider this:

• Supervisor Walter’s vision calls for more than 500 apartments to be built downtown. The lion’s share of these units will be taxpayer-subsidized public housing. This overbuild will forever change the character, look and feel of downtown.

• That’s 500 subsidized apartments rented to young people and it will no doubt mean new students our school district will have to absorb. Remember, the average student costs $26,000 per year to educate. Remember, the apartments downtown will receive full IDA tax breaks. Who’ll pay for those children? You will.

• Supervisor Walter’s downtown plan calls for 100 percent tax breaks, fee waivers and sales-tax abatements for downtown developers. That giveaway unfairly shifts the tax load onto your shoulders.

• Sean Walter’s plan does nothing to address downtown parking pressures. In fact, under the Walter plan, developers are not even required to provide parking for their tenants. That means almost 1,000 new, permanently parked cars downtown that will further burden shopkeepers who are already feeling the squeeze.

Finally, downtown already has its share of problems: crime, blight and a lack of security cameras mean we need to get our act together in the here and now before we bring even more families to Main Street.

I believe, as I said during my 2015 campaign, it is time for the Town Board to enact a development moratorium downtown, to cease activity and new projects until we have an honest conversation with the community about what the Walter plan will mean for the Main Street we love.

I believe downtown needs a “timeout” so that we can intelligently discuss the full ramifications of the Walter plan. I don’t believe the public has been told the truth about the financial impact of the supervisor’s proposed tax giveaways.

I don’t think the public has been fully clued in as to the cumulative, game-changing feel that behemoth towers will have on downtown.

There was a time, not long ago, when families strolled downtown and couples walked hand-in-hand browsing shops. I think the public longs for that kind of downtown again.

I believe downtown should embrace our rural heritage, keep our quaint architecture and unique small-town feel.

If Sean Walter has his way, tomorrow’s downtown will be very different than the Riverhead of yesterday — and not for the better.

I urge the Town Board to take another look at Supervisor Walter’s ill-conceived plan.

Laura Jens-SmithThe author is a former Democratic nominee for Riverhead Town Board. She lives in Laurel.