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Officials urge residents to attend forum on downtown Riverhead

Riverhead Town officials held a press conference Tuesday to encourage residents to attend a forum Thursday on the “pattern book” planned for downtown Riverhead.

“Community input is such an important aspect to development in our downtown,” Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said.

And what’s a pattern book?

“A pattern book is really an understanding of how shapes and forms of buildings should emerge, based on the other qualities that you have in a given location,” said Janice Scherer of Baiting Hollow, co-chair of Riverhead’s downtown revitalization committee as well as a planner for Southampton Town.

She said the pattern book designs an area around a feature, such as the river or the main street, and relies on public input as well as previous planning studies.

“It’s important that members of the community feel that they have a say in how the community should evolve in the future,” Ms. Scherer said.

In August, the Town Board hired Urban Design Associates of Pittsburgh to develop the pattern book for $174,530. The vote was split, with Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith and council members Catherine Kent and Jim Wooten voting yes, and council members Tim Hubbard and Jodi Giglio voting no.

Mr. Hubbard said the town’s Architectural Review Board and Landmarks Preservation Commission are more qualified to make recommendations for downtown, and Ms. Giglio said the money would be better spent buying and demolishing the former Swezey’s building and turning that area into a town square.

Jeff Murphree, the town’s building and planning administrator, said “the two numbers that are dictating your downtown are building height in terms of number of stories and building height in terms of feet. Those two numbers are absolutely critical in terms of how big a building can be, but it doesn’t address the whole planning process from a comprehensive, sustainable point of view.”

The town has considered reducing the maximum height for buildings downtown, although that has run into opposition from some property owners who said they were planning to build at those heights.

“We can build as many buildings as we want, but it’s not necessarily going to revitalize downtown unless we have mixed-use to those buildings,” Ms. Jens-Smith said. “We need stores on the main level, we need walkability, we need a downtown that’s attractive to the community and inviting.”

The community forum on Thursday, Nov. 14, at 6:30 p.m. will be held at the town’s senior center at 60 Shade Tree Lane in Aquebogue.

There will be a short presentation at the outset by UDA, after which participants will break into smaller groups to discuss the future of downtown.

The pattern book is expected to be complete in six months, Ms. Jens-Smith said.

It will be in done in three steps: community outreach, development strategies and implementation strategies, officials said.

Photo caption: Jeff Murphree at Tuesday’s press conference. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

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