Riverside redevelopment going slowly amid COVID, sewage treatment concerns

Plans to redevelop Riverside, considered one of the most economically distressed areas in Suffolk County, have run into roadblocks on a number of fronts, including the lack of sewage treatment in the area, which makes large scale development unlikely to get Suffolk County approval, and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“I think we’re in serious trouble,” Vince Taldone, president of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association, said in an interview about the development of Riverside. “I don’t think anything has progressed over the course of a year.”

Mr. Taldone said that the final engineering plans for a new maritime park along the Peconic River in Riverside were discussed at a FRNCA meeting in February 2020 and were supposed to go to the town. “But it’s a year later and nothing has been done,” he said.

He also questioned Southampton Town’s pace in developing a sewage treatment plant in Riverside. 

The Town Board issued a request in August 2013 for qualifications to be the town’s “master developer” in Riverside. A year later, it signed Renaissance Downtowns of Huntington Station to fill that role and develop new zoning for Southampton, using community input to do so. 

The Riverside Revitalization Action Plan they developed with the town included a Riverside Overlay District that gave property owners the option to accept more stringent regulations in exchange for greater allowable density on their property. Property owners could also choose to keep the existing zoning. 

Mr. Taldone said he feels the town used COVID-19 as an excuse for not finishing projects. He says it still had the same number of employees during the pandemic, but some of them worked from home. Sean McLean of Renaissance Downtowns said that things have been slow, but that they are still hearing from investors who are interested in Riverside.

Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman disagreed with the notion that Riverside Revitalization plans have come to a halt due to the pandemic. “We still have done things,” he said, citing the former Peconic Paddler property. 

That project received conditional site plan approval from Southampton’s Planning Board last year for construction of a one-story, 4,212-square-foot restaurant with boat rentals and sales. Property owners Tom Fredette and James Svendsen had originally planned a four-story hotel, but scaled back due to the lack of sewage treatment in the area. 

Mr. Schneiderman also said the town is in negotiation with the Schumejda family to purchase a 40-acre property on the north side of Flanders Road. The town plans to built the sewage treatment plant on the south side of Flanders Road in Riverside, on land that was once part of the old drive-in theater. The Schumejda property would be used for drainage — where treated effluent would be filtered back into the ground. 

Mr. Schneiderman said much of the intensified development of Riverside that is called for in the overlay zoning will depend on sewage treatment. 

“Development of the sewer district going to be very expensive, even with the town providing the property,” he said. “The number I’ve heard in the past is about $50 million.” He said it’s possible it could be scaled down.

Additional federal and state money will likely be needed, he added. 

Money from the Community Preservation Fund, which comes from a 2% land transfer tax, can be used toward some of the cost of a sewer district, Mr. Schneiderman said, noting, “The CPF money cannot be used to promote growth, but it can be used to take care of the current sewer flow.”