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Members sought for downtown revitalization committee

The Riverhead Town Board is seeking members for a new downtown revitalization committee that will be tasked with creating a long-term plan to attract new businesses and find solutions for vacant buildings.

The 12-member committee will include residents and business owners who have an expertise in areas such as marketing, recreation, construction and planning, as well as representatives from East End Arts and the Riverhead Business Improvement District. Each member would serve a two-year term.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent will the Town Board liaison to the group.

“A downtown is the heart of a town and presents its image to the world,” Ms. Kent said in a statement Wednesday. “Riverhead’s downtown is vital to keeping and attracting a new generation of residents to our town. With this committee we are bringing together people of all different expertise to revitalize our area while maintaining our rural, historic charm.”

Town officials plan on conducting a downtown walk-through in the next week or so as part of starting the new committee, Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said.

On Thursday, the Town Board discussed one area the committee could provide input — the possibility of a new approach to zoning downtown, known as form-based zoning.

“The more uses and things that develop in terms of land, the harder it gets to manage it this way,” Community Development Agency administrator Dawn Thomas said.

Instead of zoning by use, form-based zoning goes by physical form, such as the relationship between building facades and the public realm, according to definitions Ms. Thomas presented. Form-based zoning is a way to avoid a disconnect between a community’s vision and land use regulations, according to information she presented.

“It looks more at what do you want it to look like and how do you get what you want in a particular area,” Ms. Thomas told the board.

Ms. Thomas showed the board the zoning code for the downtown area of Beaufort, S.C. as an example. The code breaks the areas down into districts and includes a description of the streets— maps and design visual included— essentially, giving “a dream” of how the area should look, Ms. Thomas said.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said she would like to see examples of form-based zoning on Long Island to compare to. She asked whether this sort of planning would require State Environmental Quality Review Act assessments and how that would be funded. Ms. Thomas said it would require SEQRA.

“It’s a big undertaking and it’s certainly going to require you to look at things and study them differently,” Ms. Thomas said.

Deputy town attorney Anne Marie Prudenti added, “But the beautiful thing is once new and different uses come into play you don’t have to revise, then, the master plan.” Under the current zoning structure, new uses must be added to the master plan and the town has to pay for the update and SEQRA, she said.

Form-based zoning “really allows the Town Board an avenue to have flexibility,” Ms. Prudenti said.

Because downtown Riverhead is an urban renewal area, the town could apply for grants, such as the state’s funding through its Downtown Revitalization Initiative, to fund SEQRA studies, Ms. Prudenti said. Riverhead Town applied for the grant last year in a joint application with Southampton Town toward improvements in Riverside, but board members said they’d favor applying alone this time around.

Councilman Jim Wooten agreed, but said the “synergy between us and Riverside” should not be lost and suggested the new downtown revitalization committee explore that connection.

He said most of the board agrees there has to be “a real, hard look at downtown” as far as what’s allowed and what the town does not want allowed in the future. This could be a catalyst for doing that, he said.

“I think it’s great,” Ms. Giglio said. “It’s something we’ve want to do for a long time, but didn’t have the funding to do the SEQRA … It is time for that, there’s a lot that needs to be done.”

Ms. Jens-Smith added it could be good for those who want to come develop downtown in that form-base zoning would lay out the map of what’s expected from them.

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