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Town Board plans to adopt ‘Pattern Book’ Wednesday, hire firm to design Town Square

Riverhead Town’s “Pattern Book” on how to develop the downtown area is now complete and expected to be adopted by the Town Board Wednesday.

“It’s been a long haul, but it’s also been a good process,” said Barry Long, the president and CEO of Urban Design Associates, the Pittsburgh-based firm hired by the town in 2019 to do the 145-page pattern book for $174,530. 

The Town Board also plans to vote on a resolution Wednesday to hire UDA to design the proposed Town Square on the south portion of East Main Street, facing the riverfront. 

Mr. Long addressed the Town Board via Zoom at Thursday’s Town Board work session.

The cover of the Pattern Book.

He said the pattern book process “was born out of a concern of creating a canyon affect along Main Street, with five-story buildings permitted on both sides of East Main Street under the zoning at the time.”

Building height had been a major debate, with builders saying reducing the height limit would be like taking away value from their property with no compensation, and residents saying five stories would make downtown look like Manhattan.

UDA ultimately came up with a compromise of allowing a four-story maximum but also allowing the maximum lot coverage on these properties to to increase from 80% to 100%. 

The Town Square proposal calls for the town to purchase three downtown buildings for $5.5 million with the goal of opening up a view from East Main Street to the Peconic River. In this case, three buildings owned by Riverhead Enterprises are under negotiations to be acquired. Two of the three buildings are now vacant, and will be demolished, while the third, which currently houses the Italian restaurant Craft’d and other business, will remain for at lease the remainder of their current leases, according to town Community Development Director Dawn Thomas. 

The pattern book was put together with input from residents through two public meetings and two online surveys.

“The Downtown Riverhead Pattern Book is intended to provide direction for policies and projects proposed within the Main Street (DC-1) Zoning Use District,” the book states. “The process of listening to residents and stakeholders formed an ideal vision for Downtown Riverhead, and the parameters that follow reflect the desired character for the policies and the public and private realms that came out of that public process.” 

The pattern book concluded, based on the input from residents and “stakeholders,” that Riverhead’s strengths were special events, theaters, restaurants, its architectural character, and the Peconic River waterfront. 

Its weaknesses, on the other hand, were safety, traffic, current zoning and regulations, a perceived lack of parking and vacancies, according to the survey respondents.  

“Opportunities” for downtown were the Riverfront development, the Town Square, small local business growth, increased multi-family uses and an improved streetscape, according to the plan.

And “threats” to downtown were flooding, lack of police presence, downsizing of current zoning, inadequate parking, and affordable housing, which respondents felt does not support retail. 

The patten book makes only recommendations for zoning changes. The town would have to  adopt zoning changes separately. 

Mr. Long said the planned town square, located behind the former Swezey’s Furniture building and the East End Arts property “is a critical initiative for a couple of reasons. It addresses the main weaknesses in downtown Riverhead, which is connecting Main Street to the Peconic River, which is incredibly invisible from Main Street for a town with such tremendous assets.”

Mr. Long said the town square also “creates a beating heart in a specific space in the center of downtown, and open space is part of making a vibrant downtown.”

“I couldn’t be more proud of this on so many levels,” said Councilwoman Catherine Kent, who was an early supporter of the plan in 2019. The Town Board at that time approved doing the pattern book in a split vote, but it now has support from the full board. 

“We are showing everyone that we are willing to make an investment in our downtown.”

“It’s a very impressive report,” said recently appointed Councilman Ken Rothwell. “Thank you for all the work you’ve put into it.”