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Town officials pitch case to state representatives for demolishing two buildings for Town Square

Riverhead Town officials made their case before three representatives of the New York State Historic Preservation Office last Wednesday as to why two buildings in downtown Riverhead should be demolished as part of the Town Square project.

The town seeks to demolish two of the three downtown buildings it recently purchased for the Town Square, which, if completed, would open a vista between Main Street and the Peconic River.

But parts of Main Street — from Griffing Avenue to Maple Avenue — were placed on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district in 2012. That means any changes, such renovations or demolition, planned for a building that was deemed to have “contributing” elements to the National Register designation must go before the SHPO to show they are preserving the historic character of the area, according to Riverhead Town Community Development Agency director Dawn Thomas.

Officials said in 2012 that there were 46 buildings in that downtown district with such contributing elements. 

“This is a necessary step in what is a routine process in a historic district,” Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said in an interview last Wednesday. She said the state officials on the tour were “very professional.”

The two vacant buildings the town wants to demolish are 121 East Main St., a former bike store that has no contributing elements related to the National Register; and the former Swezey’s furniture store at 117 East Main St., which does have a contributing element, according to Ms. Thomas. 

The 117 East Main St. building has what’s known as jalousie windows on the second floor, which were popular in the 1950s and are considered historically significant, Ms. Thomas said.

There’s very little left to that building, Ms. Thomas said. It has no heat and a leak in the ceiling has left mold throughout the building. The upper floors in the back of the building don’t have windows. The building was last used as a farmers market several years ago. 

Both 117 and 121 East Main St. also are too big, Ms. Thomas said. 

“Retail stores nowadays don’t need 8,000 square feet, they need 1,500 square feet because everything is moving toward internet commerce,” she said. 

In addition to Ms. Thomas, Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio attended the meeting, along with Richard Wines and Joe Petrocelli of the town’s Landmarks Preservation Committee. 

“The more important thing, from their point of view, was the wall of buildings along Main Street, which is historically characteristic of the town, ” Mr. Wines said. “The state is likely to be concerned that the Town Square doesn’t punch too big a hole in East Main Street … They want to make sure that whatever gets built is going to be compatible with the historic district.” 

Mr. Wines said the Landmarks Preservation Committee “strongly favors the creation of a Town Square.”

“We feel very comfortable that the Town Square project is not going to be impeded,” Ms. Thomas said. ”The process just ensures that the historic character of our downtown is woven into the project.”

She said the state’s decision on 117 East Main St. will likely come in about a month.

Mr. Wines said that for any project in a National Register district, if there is any state or federal funding involved, “they have a say in the design. And they have some good ideas. Everything they talked about seemed very reasonable and very doable and would have a positive impact on the design for the Town Square.”