Proposal for ‘family-friendly’ downtown would ban tattoo parlors, smoke shops and rehab facilities

Smoke shops? Out. Tattoo or body piercing parlors? Nope.

Those are just some of the uses that would not be allowed in downtown Riverhead under a proposal from the town’s Community Development Department that came before the Riverhead Town Board last Wednesday. There were only three speakers at the hearing, aside from town officials.

The proposal to restrict certain uses would not affect businesses that are already operating, according to town attorney Erik Howard. 

“Those would be vested as preexisting, nonconforming uses,” he said.

The Town Board held a public hearing on a proposal to create a “Downtown Riverhead Overlay District.” The boundaries of the proposed district are essentially the same as those of the Riverhead Business Improvement District, according to Ms. Thomas, executive director of the Community Development Department. 

“The purpose of the proposal would be to limit the types of uses that are allowed” in the Downtown 1-to-5 zoning districts, she said. “The reason we are recommending this is to ensure that the uses that we are allowing in this area are consistent with the last 20-plus years of planning that we’ve done,” Ms. Thomas said. 

Prohibited uses in the proposed overlay district include: 

  • fraternities, sorority houses and dormitories; 
  • smoke shops and tobacco stores, including those selling vaping paraphernalia; 
  • public displays of firearms, knives or other weapons; 
  • any performance space, business or mercantile uses deemed to be adult entertainment establishments; and
  • hospitals, surgical centers, convalescent and rest homes, rehabilitation facilities, clinics, urgent care centers and drug treatment centers.

Other prohibited uses include pawn shops, tattoo or body piercing parlors, service stations, laundromats and car washes.

“The community is looking for a family-friendly downtown,” Ms. Thomas said. “When you examine the uses that are permitted in those zones, not all of them are family-friendly.”

Councilman Tim Hubbard said the proposal was discussed the previous night by a subcommittee of the BID and that “they overwhelmingly support this.” The group has roughly 30 members and is comprised of mostly business owners.

Resident Ellen Hoil said the high rate of vacancies downtown is due to all the mixed-use developments that have been built downtown. 

“You keep building apartments with commercial space underneath that remains empty,” she said. 

She also questioned banning tattoo parlors. 

The public hearing was left open for written comments only to be submitted to the clerk’s office by 4:30 p.m. on March 3.

Ms. Thomas said the town plans a hearing on March 22 on another proposal from the Community Development Department that seeks to target conduct rather than uses. That proposal calls for expanding the “zero tolerance” section of the town code. 

“The intent of this chapter is to decrease quality-of-life violations within the town’s [Business Improvement District] and Downtown Riverhead Overlay District by creating zero tolerance zones,” the proposal states.

“Although Riverhead’s downtown has seen the beginnings of a new vibrancy in recent years … there are still blighted and underutilized properties flanking these improvements along with many other obstacles to overcome to realize full revitalization.”

It continued: “The Town of Riverhead recognizes that certain personal conduct, such as aggressive panhandling, loitering, consumption of alcohol and use of marijuana and other drugs in public spaces, public urination and other similar conduct is inconsistent with the family-friendly environment that the town residents wish to encourage.”

As a result of the proposal, violations like aggressive solicitation, smoking or vaping could draw fines up to $500 or up to 15 days in jail in many cases. 

The March 22 public hearing will take place at the Town Board meeting at 6 p.m.