‘Zero tolerance zone’ could mean 90 days in jail for drinking in public

Town officials are hoping some tough new regulations will help improve the quality of life in downtown Riverhead.

Proposals aimed at increasing penalties and fines for offenses such as panhandling, loitering, consumption of alcohol and use of marijuana or other drugs in the downtown business district met with broad support from several speakers at a Town Board public hearing last week.

Currently, the maximum fine is $250 or 15 days in jail for most violations. But that would change under the proposed “Zero Tolerance” policy.

Penalties for public consumption of alcohol in the designated area could rise to as much as $500 and 90 days in jail for repeat offenders. Fines for loitering “for the purpose of engaging in drug-related and/or prostitution related activity” could reach $2,500 or up to 90 days in jail. Public urination would be deemed “obscene conduct” and result in fines of up to $1,000.

Garret Moore was one of several residents and business owners who spoke at the meeting. He said he has witnessed almost all of the behaviors the town is trying to prevent on his front lawn on E. Main Street in the past few years.

“I definitely support this,” he said.

The zero tolerance zone is intended to complement to a proposal to create a “Downtown Riverhead Overlay District” which was the subject of hearing in February and which the board approved Wednesday. That proposal deals with restricting commercial uses for new businesses downtown, such as smoke shops and rehab centers.

The Riverhead Business Improvement District also submitted a letter in support of the proposal, according to Kristy Verity, the BID’s executive director.

“People need to understand that we’ve been trying to cleanup downtown for a very long time,” said Town Attorney Erik Howard. “The old way is not working.”

The Town Board held the proposals open for written comment until March 31.