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Committee makes recommendations to Town Board about downtown

The Riverhead Town Board is considering creating a “pattern book” of zoning and architectural styles it wants downtown, a recommendation made by its Downtown Revitalization Advisory Committee.

The volunteer committee, which made a presentation on its progress during last Thursday’s Town Board work session, comprises 20 members. The co-chairs are Jim Farley of South Jamesport, a member of the town Industrial Development Agency, and Janice Scherer of Wading River, a professional planner for Southampton Town.

Southampton Town used a similar pattern book in its plans to update zoning and design standards in Hampton Bays. The Riverhead Town Board is hoping to meet with Historical Concepts, the company that created the Hampton Bays Pattern Book, in an upcoming work session.

Ms. Scherer said things like zoning and floor area ratio often don’t mean anything to most people.

“Patterns are drawings, so you can see what it looks like,” she said.

The pattern book sees to it that “the vision for the community and the standards for development are clearly articulated and can be clearly understood,” she said. “This will make the development process move quickly and provide certainty to the developer.”

According to Mr. Farley, the committee also suggested that the Town Board consider entering into eminent domain proceedings for properties that are not properly maintained, as per a compliance agreement signed with the town.

The town recently enacted a code that requires owners of blighted property to enter into a compliance agreement with the town to ensure the property is cleaned up.

Eminent domain, also called condemnation, requires a judge to give the land to the town for a “greater public good,” with the price being determined later by the courts.

The Town Board had considered condemnation of some downtown buildings in the past, but ultimately backed off. In those cases, the board was considering acquiring buildings so they could be sold to a private developer and then developed into stores and a movie theater.

Mr. Farley said the committee suggested increasing fines for illegal dumping.

He said the committee has focused on blighted buildings and illegal dumping in downtown.

The revitalization committee also recommended the creation of a unified marketing campaign for downtown Riverhead, according to committee member Diane Tucci.

While a number of organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Improvement District, have been marketing downtown Riverhead, Ms. Tucci said there should be a collective plan.

“We really want to get everyone on board with a single, unified marketing message,” she said.

This could involve social media hashtags and positive messages about the town, she said.

“People who live here, love it here, and we want to be able to leverage that, and get it out to the public,” she said.

The committee is also recommending that the town try to attract a “wellness and health” industry downtown, Ms. Scherer said. That could include businesses related to athletic performance, anti-aging, physical therapy and similar industries, she said.

“In terms of businesses, we never had a situation where you’ve tried to actually market and try to attract a specific type of industry into downtown before,” Ms. Scherer said.

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said she hopes the committee will also provide the Town Board with input on things like building height and building sizes.

The current zoning allows for a maximum height of five stories. The town recently proposed changes that would lower the maximum height, a move that met opposition from property owners and developers, leading officials to back down from the proposal.

Ms. Jens-Smith said the Town Board will take no action on the pattern book until it hears from Historical Concepts in a work session.

Photo caption: Committee members Diane Tucci, from left, Janice Scherer and Jim Farley at Thursday’s Town Board work session. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

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