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Officials still seeking federal opportunity for Riverside

Southampton Town officials aren’t taking no for an answer when it comes to having Riverside designated as a federal Opportunity Zone.

Despite not being recognized by the state — which recommended downtown Riverhead instead — Southampton Councilwoman Christine Scalera said she and others are going straight to the federal government to make their case for Riverside. 

The Opportunity Zone program, which is part of the new federal tax bill, allows low-income census tracts to offer tax incentives to developers who invest in those areas. 

But while Riverside is considered the most impoverished hamlet in Suffolk County, the census tract it belongs to includes Flanders and Northampton, which raises the tract’s overall average income and disqualifies it from the program.  

The program does allow census tracts that don’t qualify for Opportunity Zone designation on their own to be chosen — even if they are contiguous with a census tract that does quality, like downtown Riverhead. 

Before the state made its selection, Ms. Scalera said joined Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) and others on a conference call with representatives of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office urging that he include Riverside among the 514 census tracts New York State was recommending to the U.S. Treasury department. 

The governor did not do so. 

“In New York State, we’ve focused on revitalizing our downtowns and investing in the communities that need it most,” Howard Zemsky, president, CEO and commissioner of Empire State Development, said in a press release announcing the selections. 

On Monday, Ms. Scalera wrote a letter to Scott Dinwiddie, associate chief counsel for Internal Revenue Service, to further plead Riverside’s case, saying the hamlet “is inextricably tied to the designated tract of the neighboring Town of Riverhead.”

She noted that Riverside and Riverhead share a school district, a fire district, a ZIP code and a river. She also pointed out that the downtown Riverhead business district serves as the commercial hub for Riverside, that Riverhead and Southampton towns have both committed to revitalizing the area, and that Suffolk County is also heavily invested in efforts to revive both Riverside and downtown Riverhead. 

“We have been working extremely hard on the revitalization efforts in the Riverside area,” Ms. Scalera wrote. “The town has invested time, resources and manpower in ultimately creating the Riverside Revitalization Action Plan, a master plan for the area, unanimously adopted by our Town Board after extensive community input.”

The RRAP, she said, calls for development that complements downtown Riverhead rather than competes with it. 

The Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association is also urging residents to continue pushing for Riverside’s inclusion in the Opportunity Zone program. 

FRNCA president Ron Fisher this week urged residents to call Mr. Dinwiddie at 1-202-653-0446 or email [email protected]@cdfi.treas.gov.

The federal government is expected to make its final Opportunity Zone picks Friday, May 18.

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