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Pattern book survey recommends limiting downtown buildings to four stories

Building heights in downtown Riverhead should be limited to four stories, instead of the current five, with a height limit of 50 feet instead of the current 60 feet. Their lot coverage should also be allowed to increase from 80% to 100%.

That was “the most critical component” made in the draft version of the final pattern book, according to Supervisor Yvette Aguiar.

The pattern book will be subject to a future public hearing and some of its recommendations for downtown will likely be incorporated into the town’s zoning, she said.

Urban Design Associates of Pittsburgh completed the pattern book as a way of recommending uses for downtown Riverhead.

The full draft report will be posted on the Riverhead Town website Friday.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent, who was the board liaison on the project, said it gathered input from residents, property owners and other stakeholders.

“Our forum drew over 100 people and the first survey had around 1,200 responses,” she said.”The parent book result is community driven.”

The Town Board at Thursday’s work session reviewed some of the recommendations with Barry Long, the CEO of UDA.

The pattern book survey came about a few years ago in response to opposition from some residents toward the new five-story buildings being constructed in the downtown. They said the buildings already under construction made downtown look like a city, and that they wanted to preserve the area’s rural character.

At the same time, some property owners argued that to reduce the building height to three, as was proposed, would drive away investment in downtown, saying apartments are needed to create walking traffic to benefit stores and restaurants.

“This has been community driven,” Mr. Long said via Zoom Thursday. “About 40% of the pattern book has been.”

The Town Board hired UDA in a 4-2  vote in August 2019 for $174,530 to guide future decisions in downtown.

Downtown should be filled with happenings and events to draw people to restaurants and shops, Mr. Long said.

“That’s the activity of life,” he said. “Without it, you just have a ghost town.”

He said this is why vacancies are “poisonous” to a downtown environment.

Architecture was another issued studied in the pattern book.

“At the end of the day, when we hear from our citizens and residents was that they really liked the eclectic nature of the town and they really like the diversity and don’t want to have a unified architectural approach,” Mr. Long said. 

On another issue, Mr. Long said, “citizens would like to see the town do a better job of leveraging its No. 1 strength, which is identified as the Peconic River.” 

Flooding from the Peconic River was another issue raised, and UDA recommends reaching out to the Army Corps of Engineers, something Ms. Aguiar said she also already begun to do.

Ms. Kent said one of the reasons for the Pattern Book was so developers would have clear guidelines from the town as to what they could and couldn’t build.

“In the end, I hope people will be pleased with this final project,” Ms. Kent said. “I know there are many in the community that will be disappointed that it’s four stories and there will be some who are very disappointed that it’s not five stories. But there is a balance here.”

Ms. Aguiar said she’s glad the recommendation wasn’t for three stories, because that would have likely resulted in lawsuits from people who bought their property when zoning allowed five stories. 

She said UDA did a good job on the report, but added that it should not sit in an archive somewhere.

Councilman Frank Beyrodt said Town Board the needs to follow the recommendations of the report or else “it’s not going to drive investment” to Riverhead.

Mr. Long agreed that the height recommendation was a key part of the plan.

“We try our best to reflect the community input,” he said.