Public input phase set to begin for Riverhead’s town square project

The public input process for Riverhead Town’s proposed Town Square design will kick off with a virtual public Zoom meeting April 1, but members of the public can weigh in now through an online survey, Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said Monday. 

The Thursday, April 1 meeting, which is from 6:30-7:30 p.m., will include an opening and closing session for all participants, as well as smaller breakout rooms, divided by specific topics of interest.

Unlike the downtown “pattern book” study last year, which was done with well-attended public meetings and a public survey, much of the Town Square input will have to be done online through Zoom, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said. 

The public input process will continue for six to eight weeks, as the town readies itself to submit grant applications for federal and state funding, due by the end of May.

Ms. Aguiar called it “an extensive public participation process on the development of the new Town Square in downtown Riverhead.” 

Community Development Agency director Dawn Thomas joined the supervisor to announce the kickoff of the public participation process Monday. 

“[The Town Square] will be the centerpiece of a fully revitalized, thriving Downtown Riverhead,” Ms. Aguiar said.

The project calls for the acquisition of three downtown buildings, two of which are vacant and will be demolished in order to create a walkway from East Main Street to the Peconic River. The buildings to be demolished are all across the street from the Suffolk Theater. 

The town expects to close on the acquisition of the three buildings “in the very near future,” according to the supervisor. 

The public input component of Riverhead’s Town Square design process began last week with two days of meetings facilitated by Urban Design Associates of Pittsburgh, and will continue with a component that involves soliciting input from the general public, Ms. Aguiar said. 

Urban Design Associates also recently completed the town’s “pattern book” for redevelopment of the downtown and was hired to do likewise with the Town Square.

Public input

The next component of the proposal involves soliciting input from the general public. A website generated through “Social Pinpoint,” a configurable digital community engagement platform that is designed to generate public participation in planning projects, has already been launched.

The website will also be linked to the town’s site and more.

The website will feature interactive maps and will enable participants to leave feedback, attach photos of suggestions and submit ideas. Community engagement will consist of a digital survey, the supervisor said. 

Grant funding

The town has allocated $1.8 million in grant money toward the project.

It received an $800,000 grant from Empire State Development and the town leveraged $612,000 in Suffolk County water quality funding and $400,000 in Suffolk County Jump Start funding to enter into contract to acquire three parcels that will result in the Town Square.

Closing on the three parcels, which are currently owned by Riverhead Enterprises, is expected to occur in the very near future, officials said. 

Ms. Thomas said the town cannot sell parkland but is planning on either leasing or selling some town-owned land or parking lots to private companies to raise more funds for the project. Tthe Town will be entering into a public private partnership with a developer to develop the entire Town Square, she said.

The town plans on issuing a request for proposals or a request for qualifications for what types of uses private companies would put in the Town Square, Ms. Thomas said. 

“The primary goal of this project is to reorient the pedestrian focus from the traditional Main Street to the Peconic Riverwalk,”Ms. Aguiar said. 

The finished Town Square concept will consist of a public gathering space, pedestrian connectivity and open vistas from Main Street to the riverfront. 

“We could do a lot of things and that’s what this whole planning process is helping us to decide,” Ms. Thomas said. “You’ll be able to go there and play corn hole or there could be music on the square or laser shows. There will be a lot of different things going on there all the time. “

The Town intends to repurpose some existing town-owned riverfront parking as public gathering spaces, which may include performance spaces, splash fountains and permeable brick/stone pathways interspersed with rain gardens.

Officials hope to have the final design for the Town Square completed by May.