Featured Story

Need for more apartments sparks debate

Downtown Riverhead’s four- and five-story apartments and hotels may be the first thing people coming to the town notice and comment on, due to their size compared to the surroundings.

Are more needed? That’s a subject for debate. 

The apartments, which usually have retail or office space on the ground level, are largely at or close tocapacity, according to Connie Lassandro, president of the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce and a consultant for the Riverview Lofts apartments. 

“To the best of my knowledge, all of the apartments are at or close to being full and there is a waiting list on some of them,” she said. 

Although several more apartment projects are in the proposal stages, there are five that have already opened. 

Among the ones the News-Review examined, The Shipyard on East Main Street said it had one vacancy, Riverview Lofts has no vacancies, and Summerwind Square had one or two vacancies, according to its owner.

 “I’m not 100% sure, because sometimes we have waiting lists,” said Wayne Steck, owner of Summerwind Square. “But if one or two people move out per month, we get new people. I’d say we have one or two open all the time. But we’re pretty much full. If we have a vacancy, it’s not much more than a few weeks.”

Mr. Steck is currently applying to build another 45-unit complex on East Main Street at the former West Marine location. 

“There’s definitely a demand for housing on Long Island,” Mr. Steck said. 

Summerwind Square has 52 units and is considered “workforce housing,” and must maintain income guidelines. In 2013, Summerwind Square was the first of the new apartments buildings in downtown, with apartments on the upper floors and stores or offices on the ground floor. 

Summerwind Square was followed by Woolworth Apartments (19 units), Peconic Crossing (45 units) and Riverview Lofts (116 units) as workforce or “affordable” housing. 

After that, Town Board members decided to seek market rate apartments instead of workforce. 

The next apartment complex that was proposed and approved was The Shipyard, by G2D Group, which is currently in the process of building another apartment complex, near Riverhead Free Library. 

The Shipyard, which has 36 units overlooking the Peconic River, was the first non-workforce housing apartment complex in the last four years. 

It bills itself as“luxury” apartments. The Shipyard is said to be at or close to capacity, according to Ms. Lassandro. 

The next batch of apartment proposals still need certificates of occupancies before they can start build. 

The largest of them is called 203-213 East Main Street and it calls for 165 units on land that used to be home to Sears. It is owned by the Metro Group, which recently joined forces with Heatherwood and Ornstreet Development LLC on the project. 

In addition to the apartments, this application is proposing to build a total of 155 parking stalls, along with rentable offices and “small-format” retail on the bottom two floors. If built, it will be the largest apartment complex in downtown Riverhead. 

But will it be built?

The town’s 2003 master plan update set a limit of 500 residential apartment units in the Downtown-1 zoning district, which runs largely from Griffing Avenue on the west and Osborne Avenue on the east, with the limit being based on certificates of occupancy. There are current total of 268 units that have COs. in the DC-1 zone.

In addition to 203-213 East Main Street, pending proposals the town has received but which don’t have a CO included The Landmark on East Main Street (45 units), Station One (39 units) on Osborn Avenue; The Suffolk (28 units), the Zenith house on McDermott Avenue (9 units), and Dark Horse (5 units), according to the town. 

There also have been proposed apartment complexes that are not in the DC-1 zone and thus not affected by the 500-unit cap. One example is the Vue, on West Main Street and Sweezy Avenue, which proposes 133 units. 

Another example is the town’s “transit oriented development” by the Riverhead train station. The plan, which is not in the DC-1 zone, proposes 243 apartment units and a parking garage. 

Some residents say “enough!”

Cindy Clifford, one of the leaders of Heart of Riverhead Civic Association, said the issue of apartments came up for discussion at one of their recent meetings, where residents were asked if they supported more apartments. 

“I would say it was a giant ‘no’ came from the crowd,” Ms. Clifford said.

She said that’s not just the feedback she hears in civic meetings. 

“When I have conversations with people about it, I have very rarely spoken with anyone who is anything other than adamantly opposed to the apartments,” Ms. Clifford said.

“I think there’s obviously going to be a saturation point financially for the developers,” said Riverhead Councilman Tim Hubbard. “There’s going to be a point where enough is enough. But there’s no vacancy rates in any of them right now. Every one that’s being built has no problem filling up.”

“We are going to hit the cap, but from what I see, there’s a need,” said Councilman Bob Kern.