Featured Story

Riverhead Town considers fee to create more parking downtown

Riverhead Town officials are exploring the possibility of establishing a Payment in Lieu of Parking Program — or PILOPP —as a way to create more parking.

“We talked about this a few months ago,” said Councilman Tim Hubbard at last Thursday’s Town Board work session. “We would try to extract some money for the parking district from development, but predominantly residential development.”

The public parking district in downtown Riverhead was created in 1967 and imposes a special tax on the owners of property within the district. In exchange, available public parking can be counted toward the property owners’ required parking, meaning that developers in the district are not obligated to provide additional parking spaces on their properties.

Thus, the 116-unit Riverview Lofts — a mixed use apartment complex with two restaurants and retail on the lower level — was recently able to gain town approval without being required to provide any of its own designated parking, since public parking lots served as its parking. Riverview Lofts still plans to provide 55 parking spaces, although it’s not required.

The PILOPP proposes to change that, and would require that developers of residential projects in downtown Riverhead either provide 1 1/2 parking spaces for every unit proposed or pay a fee of $2,000 for every unit for which they are unable to provide parking.

The money collected would go into a fund to create additional parking.

“If you’re prospectively building apartments and you cannot provide parking, you’ll have to either provide it or they’ll be a set fee per store that you paid in the parking district,” Supervisor Sean Walter said.

The PILOPP change would require a public hearing before it can be adopted, and a date for that hearing has yet to be set.

The parking district currently comprises 853 parking spaces, according to a study by traffic engineers Nelson and Pope.

When the parking district was created 50 years ago, downtown Riverhead was mostly stores and residential development was not anticipated.

Now, Riverview Lofts is the latest in a string of residential apartments either proposed or already approved for the downtown area.

The 52-unit Summerwind Square apartments on Peconic Avenue was first, followed by the 19-unit Woolworth Apartments on East Main Street, which sit atop a gym in the former Woolworth location.

Both projects are “workforce housing,” a term officials use to describe affordable housing.

Also approved and under construction is Peconic Crossing, a 45-unit “workforce housing” apartment complex on West Main Street, next to Chase bank.

Another 171-unit apartment complex has been proposed for the former Sears site on East Main Street, although that project isn’t as far along.

Mr. Walter said at least three other builders have expressed interest in creating apartments downtown.

The town’s 2003 master plan update and the resulting zoning changes established a cap of 500 units for downtown apartments.

The town is at about 400 now, including projects that are proposed, completed or underway. While officials have said in recent years that 500 apartments are too many, Mr. Walter said last Thursday that he believes it’s necessary to have 500 apartments, citing what Patchogue Village has done in recent years.

The Town Board has already issued a request for proposals for companies to conduct a parking study for downtown. Mr. Walter said he believes the town won’t award a contract for that study until the end of the year and that it will take six to eight weeks to complete.

“I’m hoping that the study gives us a valid dollar amount for parking space,” he said. The town has discussed building a parking garage, but officials have said the cost is too high.

Officials also briefly discussed rezoning some of the land on Second and Third streets to allow owner-occupied townhouses in an area that is currently mostly smaller residences.

“If you’re going to be successful like Patchogue, you have to think about rezoning the north side so developers will come,” Mr. Walter said, adding that these areas would likely have market-rate homes instead of workforce housing.

But, he added, “that’s not part of [PILOPP]. That’s a much bigger study for a future Town Board to tackle.”

[email protected]