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Downtown Riverhead ‘pattern book’ gets OK from split Town Board

A split Riverhead Town Board voted 3-2 Tuesday night in favor of resolution awarding a $174,530 contract to prepare a “pattern book” to guide future zoning decisions in downtown Riverhead. 

The board chose Urban Design Associates of Pittsburgh, one of only two bidders that responded to a request for proposals on July 30.

The pattern book visualization process will “engage the community and give certainty to understand the consequences of what zoning actions will lead to,” according to Janice Scherer of Baiting Hollow, co-chair of Riverhead’s Downtown Revitalization Committee, which recommended the pattern book. Ms. Scherer is a planner in Southampton Town, which used a pattern book in its revitalization plans for Hampton Bays.

The job will consist of three steps: community outreach, development strategies and implementation strategies, according to the approved resolution.

A number of speakers urged the board to approve the award, but Richard Wines, co-chair of the town’s transfer of development rights committee and chair of its Landmarks Preservation Commission, raised some questions.

The TDR committee requested $30,000 for environmental analysis of their proposals to improve the TDR program 2 1/2 years ago.

“Something doesn’t seem right on the priorities here,” he said. “We’re trying to preserve our farmland and we can’t get $30,000.”

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said the environmental review of the TDR proposals is going to be part of the town’s master plan update.

Once the town chooses a contractor to do the master plan update, she said, it will be “full speed ahead” with the TDR studies.

“It’s not been put on the back burner, it’s front and center,” the supervisor said.

Mr. Wines said the Landmarks Preservation Commission is also unhappy because current zoning has allowed projects downtown that shouldn’t be allowed, like five-story apartments. He said the commission has already put forth a series of recommended patterns for downtown, and now “you’re just putting this off. That could be six months to a year.”

Ms. Jens-Smith agreed and said current zoning was enacted 16 years ago.

“There is concern from the community that it may be too intense,” she said of downtown development. That’s why the board is looking to update the master plan, she said, adding that the pattern book will allow the town to address downtown issues “in a comprehensive manner.”

Council members Jodi Giglio and Tim Hubbard both voted against the pattern book, citing the cost. The two Republicans suggested that the Architectural Review Board and the Landmarks Preservation Commission are more qualified to make recommendations for downtown.

Ms. Giglio instead suggested that the town should consider buying and demolishing the former Swezey’s building and making it a town square.

The third Republican, Councilman Jim Wooten, sided with Democrats Catherine Kent and Ms. Jens-Smith in supporting the pattern book.

He said “buying Swezey’s is not going to happen,” and said the $175,530 cost is “not the end of the world.”

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