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Strategic parking plan presented for downtown Riverhead

Several ideas included in a strategic parking plan for downtown Riverhead were presented at a Town Board work session last Thursday.

The $23,000 plan, prepared by traffic consultant Sam Schwartz, was funded in part by a $10,000 New York State Empire State Development Fund grant, according to Community Development Agency director Dawn Thomas.

“This gives us an actual course of action to take to try to get where we want to go,” Ms. Thomas said during the presentation.

The consultant’s report found that while the “overall utilization rate of the downtown area” did not exceed 58%, the centrally located lots were full and could not be easily accessed by visitors.

The most congested lots, Ms. Thomas said, are the parking lots on Court Street and Railroad Avenue, the lot behind Digger’s and the large lot behind the Suffolk Theater.

In their report, the consultants recommend “optimizing” existing parking spaces by prioritizing high-demand locations for short-term customers. “People staying longer would have to park farther away,” Ms. Thomas said.

Martin Sendlewski, who chairs the Parking District Advisory Committee, also presented recommendations based on the consultant’s report for the Town Board to consider. “We went through all of their recommendations and, as a committee, fine-tuned them based on what we all know, living here and working here, are the realities of the area,” he said.

While the consultant’s plan recommends five different time limits for parking — four hours, three hours, two hours, 15 to 30 minutes and unrestricted — the advisory committee recommends just three. “As far as managing the parking and regulating the parking … five seems like a lot,” Mr. Sendlewski said.

Mr. Sendlewski said three-hour and one-hour parking limits should be enforced in centrally located areas, with unrestricted parking mixed in at the outer perimeters of the parking district. In addition, he proposed six 15-minute parking spots along Main Street.

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith took issue with the additional unrestricted parking areas included in the committee’s recommendations. “How many more unlimited [spaces] did we create?” she asked. Neither Mr. Sendlewski nor the traffic plan prepared by the consultants mentioned any specific number of spaces.

Ms. Jens-Smith said parking in the most congested areas should be time-limited to encourage turnover.

Other board members said some unrestricted spaces near the busy areas are needed to accommodate employees.

“Employees right now are parking as close as they can to their place of work, taking that spot for their entire shift. So we’re alleviating that with closer parking spots but understand that also some of these employees are getting off at 12 midnight, one in the morning, two in the morning, and we don’t want to make them walk tremendously far late at night like that,” Councilman Tim Hubbard said.

Among the consultant’s recommendations are a shuttle used to transport people around the area and permit-based parking for downtown residents and employees.

In the report, the consultant recommends implementing the parking committee’s proposal as part of a six-month pilot program to determine its long-term viability, during which enforcement will be key.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio criticized the plan for not directly addressing the number of employees, seats in restaurants and apartments that are being constructed. “I think the study is deficient,” she said.

According to the report, the Town Board could adopt a PILOP — payment in lieu of parking — program at $10,000 to $12,500 per space. Deputy town attorney Anne Marie Prudenti said last Thursday that she would begin drafting a proposal for the PILOP, which would require review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act.