Editorial: Fix downtown parking before it gets any worse

Whether it’s restaurants, housing or parking, it would be wise for Riverhead to look south to Patchogue as an example of a downtown to emulate.

Town officials have already said Patchogue has the blueprint for what they hope Riverhead is on track to achieve: a vibrant downtown that attracts people from across the island for its food and nightlife scene along the waterfront.

The area’s proposed housing developments — such as the five-story, 117-unit mixed use project at the former McCabe’s site — would help do for Riverhead what the New Village apartments have done for Patchogue.

But with development and an influx of visitors comes an ever-increasing problem: lack of parking. And Riverhead officials must get ahead of the issue before it gets worse.

At last Thursday’s Town Board work session, several solutions were suggested. Councilman Tim Hubbard discussed installing parking meters, something that was also floated last April. At the time, Supervisor Sean Walter urged Mr. Hubbard and Councilman John Dunleavy to schedule meetings with the Riverhead Business Improvement Management Association and state Department of Transportation to further discuss the issue.

Last week, Mr. Hubbard called the potential solution a “no brainer.” He noted that Patchogue generates $400,000 a year from its roughly 500 paid parking spaces. In Riverhead, those funds could be used to build a parking garage or acquire property where additional lots could be created.

Some have argued that parking meters would drive business away from Riverhead. The reality is that the fees most drivers would pay would be nominal and residents of Main Street housing developments could be given stickers granting them free parking in designated areas.

Modern parking meters don’t require drivers to scramble to find quarters, either. Unlike the meters last used in Riverhead in the 1990s, credit cards are now accepted.

Another solution proposed last Thursday centered around PILOP fees, or Payment In Lieu of Parking. These fees, enacted in Patchogue in 2014, would be paid by any new housing development or business that fails to provide enough new parking spaces to meet town code.

While some of the projects in the works downtown are too far along to be affected by PILOP, the five-story apartment complex could be subject to the new fees, which would be crucial for generating revenue.

Patchogue may not have solved all its parking problems yet, but it still has a worthwhile blueprint for Riverhead to follow.