Some say the era of brick-and-mortar retail may be waning, but a rundown of current building applications and ongoing projects for Route 58 includes more than a dozen proposals.
So what does that mean for Riverhead’s bustling shopping district?
“I think residents like Route 58 because it’s a compact shopping district where they can get their wares and goods and then get right back out to rural areas or farm fields,” town Supervisor Sean Walter said.
But in this era of remote and online shopping, the supervisor said the town “has to be wary,” adding that he hopes the Town Board can begin a master plan update of Route 58 zoning this year.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that we will have some additional funding this year to maybe start that study, because I want to be ahead of the curve if it’s true that box stores could be coming to an end,” Mr. Walter said.
An examination of building applications pending or underway along Route 58 showed 13 projects in various stages of development. Here’s where they all stand.
EAST OF THE TRAFFIC CIRCLE
• In 2016, the Town Board changed zoning once again to permit movie theaters on Route 58, having previously limited them to downtown Riverhead in hopes of drawing a multiplex there.
The owner of the former Walmart shopping center, Manhattan-based Philips International, has submitted an application to raze the Walmart building, replace it with a multiplex and create two new restaurants at the north end of the property.
“We are negotiating a lease with Regal Entertainment Group at this point,” said Andrew Aberham, international director of sales and leasing for Philips International. “We’re pretty far along. We’re not at the finish line, but we’re definitely closer to the finish line. Time is critical here, so we’re moving on all fronts.”
Regal, the country’s largest movie theater chain, is the same company Mr. Walter tried to lure to the former Woolworth site in downtown Riverhead several years ago, an offer Regal ultimately turned down.
A theater was also proposed in 1996 for Riverhead Centre, the complex anchored by Home Depot, but Regal eventually dropped out of that project, which had been stalled by a lawsuit.
A Regal spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on its possible interest in the Route 58 site.
“We’re excited about it,” Mr. Aberham said of a possible deal with Regal. “The Riverhead market is definitely in need of a movie theater.”
• Developer Richard Israel’s Riverhead Commons development at the former Rolle Brothers site, across from Firestone, has been in the proposal stages since 2011. Mr. Israel’s company bought the property in 2009.
Riverhead Commons calls for one restaurant and three retail spaces comprising approximately 50,000 square feet.
It was last before the Riverhead Planning Board in October, when issues under discussion included the location of an RPZ (reduced pressure zone) valve to protect water from contamination and whether to require a cross access easement with a medical office proposed for Ostrander Avenue, enabling cars to exit away from Route 58.
• The southeast corner of Route 58 and Ostrander Avenue, site of a former gas station, could also be redeveloped. In October, owner TSA Capital received Planning Board approval to add 14,378 square feet of property acquired from an adjacent church, which would make it possible to build a new gas station in the same spot. Chris Kent, the attorney for TSA, said at the time that no convenience store was planned, just a gas station.
• After twice being hit by cars barreling off the Route 58 traffic circle, Pizza Hut asked to be let out of its lease late last year.
Michael Hartofelis, an attorney for property owner Bell Boulevard Realty LLC, told the Riverhead Zoning Board of Appeals in December that Pizza Hut would surrender its lease for the site and that an urgent care walk-in clinic called STAT Health was interested in taking over the location. STAT Health recently appeared before the town Architectural Review Board.
• Tire Country, which took over the 1,933-square-foot former Meineke Muffler building, seeks to build a 3,067-square-foot L-shaped addition that would stretch behind Friendly’s. That application was granted several zoning variances by the ZBA in December.
• A Popeye’s chicken has been proposed for a vacant one-acre lot on the north side of Route 58, east of Malvese. That application has been before the Planning Board once and no action has been taken on it yet.
WEST OF THE TRAFFIC CIRCLE
• A 2,590-square-foot Sonic drive-in fast food restaurant was proposed for land across from Apple Honda on Route 58 in January 2016. It called for 40 indoor seats, 16 outdoor seats and 22 drive-in parking stalls.
Town planning and building administrator Jeff Murphree said the town asked Sonic to supply more information following a public hearing but hasn’t heard from them since.
• A similar situation exists regarding Zwanger Persiri’s proposal for a radiology center at the southwest corner of Route 58 and Osborn Avenue, according to Mr. Murphree, who said he has not heard back from the applicant. That property is currently being used to store cars from the adjacent Apple Honda, which is constructing a previously approved two-story 7,433-square-foot showroom and office building just east of its existing building.
• Just west of the proposed Sonic site, Apple Honda has proposed a 60,048-square-foot retail center on 12 acres east of Riverhead Centre on Route 58.
That project received preliminary site plan approval from the Planning Board in September.
• The Shops at Riverhead, proposed by Brixmor Property Group has been the source of criticism dating back to 2012, when the developers clear-cut the entire 41-acre site, with town approval, to allow for construction of Costco, to date the only tenant at the site.
Neighbors and town officials said the clear-cutting led to noise and dust and that the trees Brixmor planted to shield neighbors often died.
Now, Brixmor is back with plans for 120,450-square-foot of additional retail on a different section of the property. In January, the Planning Board granted preliminary site plan approval, with the stipulation that Brixmor build a 10-foot sound wall to protect private homes to the east. Ulta Beauty, PetSmart and Marshalls/Home Goods are among the proposed tenants, according to the applicant.
• Peconic Bay Medical Center is currently building a 3,500-square-foot annex at the northwest corner of Route 58 and Kroemer Avenue. The project, approved in 2015, is aimed at reducing emergency room traffic at PBMC’s main Roanoke Avenue campus, according to hospital president and CEO Andrew Mitchell.
• Directly across the street, Barclay Ehrler received site plan approval in 2016 for a 14,400-square-foot retail building on a vacant 1.5-acre lot, a property Mr. Ehrler told the Planning Board he purchased 20 years ago and has been trying to develop for more than a decade.
• Just west of Walmart is the second of two hotels developer Lee Browning planned for Route 58. The 114-room Hilton Garden Inn was built in 2007 and a 140-room Marriott Residence Inn hotel is now being erected directly beside it.
Photo caption: The former Walmart location, pictured in June, is said to be a location for a multiplex and two new restaurants. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)