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Concerns raised over proposed downtown parking limit extension

Downtown Riverhead business owners concerned that a proposal to extend a three-hour parking limit would affect their customers spoke out at a public hearing Tuesday night at Riverhead Town Hall.

The three-hour limit previously ended at 6 p.m. on weekdays. It applies only to the 60 green-striped spaces in the lot, between Summerwind and PeraBell Food Bar.

Councilman Tim Hubbard said the request for the change came through the town’s parking district committee after restaurant owners downtown raised concerns that parking was being used by Summerwind residents.

Vail-Leavitt Music Hall board president Robert Barta said the hall hoped there would be an exception for people who buy tickets for shows that run more than two hours long so that they would also have time to visit restaurants downtown and not be penalized with a ticket on their windshield. Shows do not typically run on the same day each week, he said.

Mr. Hubbard said Mr. Barta made a valid point. The two met earlier that day to discuss possible solutions, he said. 

“I think it’s going to be a very easy fix,” he said, adding that the music hall could start a voucher system for their customers, allowing them to park longer than three hours and enjoy the rest of the downtown area after a show. “It’s a very irregular schedule they run,” he said. “It’s not every Friday night. It’s very sporadic throughout the year. We certainly don’t want to harm the Vail-Leavitt.”

Ray Dickhoff, who owns Summerwind Apartments and the Joe’s Garage restaurant located below it, asked if a voucher system would be available to restaurant owners and said his restaurant has a live band that plays there for four hours, three nights each week, to which Mr. Hubbard said the parking district felt three hours was enough time for restaurant parking purposes.

Mr. Dickhoff asked the board what the next step will be for downtown parking and if there is something new in the works. The parking district has discussed a range of different ideas including parking garages, condemnation of property for new spots and valet services, Mr. Hubbard said.

“We’re chipping away at it in small blocks at a time,” he said, adding that the town does not have the funds for a “huge garage” or condemnation of property.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio stepped away from the hearing as a partner in Summerwind.

“I don’t feel that it’s appropriate for me to be sitting up here listening to this public hearing and to be weighing in on comments when I own a building downtown and this directly affects me,” she said before the hearing began.

Summerwind resident Cynthia Jones said it’s tough to find parking on weekends when downtown visitors arrive. “This is basically fight for your right to park,” she said.

Angela DeVito, president of the Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association, said the downtown has a significant parking problem that needs to be resolved. Extending the three-hour limit for 60 parking stalls is not enough to be business friendly, considering the size of surrounding restaurants, she said.

Councilman John Dunleavy said the town is trying to work with everybody on solutions and is trying to avoid parking meters.

The town closed the public hearing, but will accept additional comments until April 28.

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