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Petrocelli will restore, not demolish, historic house

Builder Joe Petrocelli has decided to restore the historic Howell House on East Main Street after all.

About a week ago, he had planned to demolish the 112-year-old structure, which sits within a Riverhead Town historic district and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and replace it with a parking lot.

The building has been unoccupied for years and has fallen into disrepair.

Mr. Petrocelli credits Richard Wines, the chairman of the town’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio with convincing him to save the building.

“We’re calling Joe Petrocelli our hometown hero because he’s going to take on his third historic renovation in downtown Riverhead,” Ms. Giglio said Monday.

Mr. Petrocelli needed permission to demolish the building from the town Landmarks Preservation Commission, which was denied. Instead, Mr. Petrocelli went to the Town Board last week, asking members to override the commission’s ruling. No decision had yet been made.

Mr. Petrocelli, a co-founder of the Long Island Aquarium on East Main Street, has also restored the 112-year-old Preston House on East Main Street, right next to the Howell House. He’s also restored the 167-year-old East Lawn building farther east on East Main Street.

“We’re going to keep the envelope and bring it back to its original beauty,” Mr. Petrocelli said of the Howell House.

The site is zoned Downtown Center-1, which allows a number of uses, including restaurants, offices and spas.

Mr. Petrocelli said he hasn’t decided how he will use the building yet, but he now plans to demolish two office buildings he owns behind the Howell and Preston houses and put parking there. This way, cars can exit and enter easily from Ostrander Avenue. The previous plan had parking coming and going through the adjacent municipal parking lot.

A new traffic signal was being installed at the intersection of East Main Street and Ostrander Avenue Monday.

“Joe is our hero,” Mr. Wines said Monday. “We really appreciate what he’s doing. When he finishes with this, I can imagine how nice it’s going to look.”

The Preston House is being restored as a restaurant and a five-story, 20-room “boutique” hotel is being constructed behind it.

Mr. Petrocelli said those projects should be finished soon.

Ms. Giglio said she met with Mr. Petrocelli to present a plan to save the Howell House. She said the National Historic Register offers 40 percent tax credits for restoration of historic buildings.

The Howell House was built in 1905 by B. Frank Howell, a banker and former Riverhead Town supervisor and fire commissioner, according to Mr. Wines. Mr. Howell also was involved in the Riverhead Masons, the Patchogue Elks and he was a founder of Riverhead Country Club.

Photo caption: Local officials outside the Howell House Monday afternoon. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

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