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Opportunity Zones get federal nod

The U.S. Department of the Treasury has approved downtown Riverhead and the Enterprise Park at Calverton as “Opportunity Zones,” based on a recommendation from New York State earlier this year. Riverside, which was not among the state’s nominees from the state, was again not included.

The approval came with little notice to local officials.

Dawn Thomas, director of Riverhead’s Community Development Agency, said she first learned of the final verdict in a Newsday article, and never received anything directly from the federal government, although she was eventually able to confirm it.

Opportunity Zones are economically distressed census tracts that are empowered to offer builders who invest there a reduction or elimination of capital gains taxes incurred at the end of 10 years.

While downtown Riverhead met the poverty levels needed to qualify, the program also allows non-qualifying census tracts adjacent to qualifying tracts to be involved, which is how EPCAL gained the designation. 

Southampton Town officials, meanwhile, were hoping Riverhead would choose Riverside as its adjacent census tract, since it is considered the most economically challenged hamlet in Suffolk County. 

However, Riverside’s census tract also includes Flanders and Northampton, which reduced the tract’s overall poverty rate to a level that disqualified it from applying for the designation on its own. 

“It would have been a program that greatly benefited Riverside, unfortunately, our census tract wasn’t designated by the governor,” said Ron Fisher, president of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association, which launched an online petition and a letter-writing campaign to try and get the state designation changed. 

Southampton Town council members John Bouvier and Christine Scalera also wrote to federal officials, urging them to include Riverside. Mr. Bouvier said the town is working to try and get the census tract boundaries changed to include Riverside with Riverhead. 

He said the current boundaries “separated a community that’s largely together.”

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