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Riverhead removing trees to add parking spaces downtown

The loss of 18 trees will result in a gain of 67 more downtown parking spaces, according to Councilman Tim Hubbard, who is the Riverhead Town Board’s liaison to the parking district’s advisory board. 

He said the town has offered to replace the 18 trees with 36 other trees to be planted on town property or parks later in the fall. He said the public will get to decide what type of trees will be planted. 

The parking district is a special taxing district paid into by owners of property within the district, as a way of providing parking for downtown businesses. It was created in the 1960s.

“People in downtown Riverhead pay the taxes for the parking district and the parking and they decided they need more parking spaces and they need repairs done,” Mr. Hubbard said at last Wednesday’s Town Board meeting. 

He said some people are upset over the loss of the trees, as well as at the timing of the work, at a busy time for businesses. 

“The parking district felt that 67 spaces were more valuable at this point in time than the 18 trees,” Mr. Hubbard said. 

Trish Polcha of Riverhead was one of the people who disagreed.

“The focus on upgrading and beautifying downtown Riverhead has been apparent over the years and yay for us!” she wrote in a letter to the Town Board. “However, the indiscriminate removal of beauty provided by the trees counteracts that goal. In addition, any tree removal eliminates much needed natural air purification due to the nature of asphalt.”

“It’s a balancing act,” said Councilwoman Catherine Kent. “We’re getting the parking spots but I do think we can all agree why a lot of people in the community were upset.”

She said many of the trees being removed are “mature trees” that were planted years ago. 

The proposal to remove trees in exchange for additional parking in the First Street parking lot came from local architect Martin Sendlewski, who is a member of the parking district advisory board and who first pitched the plan several years ago. 

In a busy time of year, Mr. Hubbard said that with municipal bids the company that is awarded a contract to do the work often can only do it at certain times. 

“The timing is horrible, there’s no doubt about it,” Mr. Hubbard said. 

The First Street parking lot, with its landscaped islands and trees, was created back in 2000, as a means of stopping traffic from cutting through the lot at high speeds to avoid the traffic light, according to town engineer Drew Dillingham. 

He said that can’t happen under the new layout because “it will be solid cars.”

Work on milling, paving and striping of the parking lots in downtown Riverhead began on July 7 and will be done in time for the next “Alive on 25” event in downtown, according to Mr. Dillingham. 

That would be July 15, as the initial July 1 date for the first Alive on 25, as well as a fireworks show afterward, were rained out.