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Crackdown on downtown properties results in more than 100 violations

Riverhead Town has issued more than 100 violations to properties in downtown Riverhead and the owners of three downtown properties have been issued notices to remedy unsafe conditions, according to Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith.

A total of 10 downtown properties were inspected and the owners of seven of them are working with the town to bring the buildings into compliance, Ms. Jens-Smith said at a press conference Monday.

The other three received the notice to remedy, which gives them 30 days to correct the violation or else the town may take legal action.

The violations ranged from animal infestation to leaky roofs, exposed asbestos, failing integrity of wall systems, unsafe electrical wires, foundation walls with severe cracks, structural damage from rusted support columns, and non-operational fire and sprinkler systems, the supervisor said.

“By issuing these violations, we are telling our residents that we care about how our community looks,” she said. “We will not be intimidated by those who are holding back the potential of our downtown.”

Ms. Jens-Smith said some of the buildings have not been inspected by the town in 10 years.

“It is remarkable that these buildings have been allowed to go uninspected for 10 years, especially as we were trying to revitalize our downtown,” she said.

Ms. Jens-Smith took office at the beginning of 2018 and is up for re-election in November.

The supervisor did not identify the owners of the buildings, saying it would be unfair to the property owners, who in some cases were working with the town.

She said the identity of the three properties with notice to remedies are available through a Freedom of Information Act request. The Riverhead News-Review and RiverheadLocal filed such requests and received the information soon afterward.

The building at 117 E. Main St. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

According to Town Attorney Bob Kozakiewicz, the three buildings receiving notices to remedy are located at 53-55-59 Main St. and 117 East Main St., which are both owned by Riverhead Enterprises; and 103-105 East Main St., which is owned by North to South 103 E. Main Street LLC, based in Sag Harbor, according to town records.

Those buildings are all vacant, and most recently were occupied by Robert James Salon, the Swezey’s furniture store, most recently home to a farmer’s market, and West Marine, respectively.

Michael Butler, whose company owns the former West Marine building, said they are still trying to find a use for the building, which they acquired about a year ago.

The former Robert James Salon building. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

He said he agrees with trying to make downtown buildings look nice, but he feels there’s a difference between a property owner trying to find a use for property and one who has left buildings empty for years.

He said it wouldn’t make sense to spend a lot of money on a building before deciding what to do with it.

Sheldon Gordon of Riverhead Enterprises, which owns 13 properties downtown, said that “Riverhead Enterprises is in receipt of the orders (from the town) and is in the process of taking the necessary steps to remedy the problems. We began about a week to 10 days ago and we will continue until everything is in order.”

“As we move forward in our revitalization efforts, we come upon a problem that has long plagued our downtown, and that is vacant blighted buildings which are often centrally loaded in on Main Street,” Councilwoman Catherine Kent said.

She said that “some owners seem to sit on their buildings, asking high rent and waiting for revitalization, and yet their buildings actually hold up revitalization.”

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said downtown will benefit from the new federal Opportunity Zone program, which allows people or companies that invest in lower-income areas to defer capital gains tax.

Councilman Jim Wooten said shopping trends have changed and smaller stores are more desirable.

“The stores were talking about on Main Street have been vacant for so long that it’s almost not even worth fixing up,” he said.

Top photo caption: The former West Marine building. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

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