Townhouse development proposed at site of deadly fire

New townhouse apartments are in the works for the East Second Street property where a historic home was destroyed in a 2021 fire that killed a family of five.

Sag Harbor-based contractor Houseworks, owned by Tamer Pepemehmetoglu, has proposed eight townhouse apartments, each measuring “approximately 1,000 square feet,” according to a statement by Mr. Pepemehmetoglu. The apartments will be in a pair of two-story buildings at 46 East Second St. in Riverhead.

The .33-acre site is located in the Downtown Center 4 (Office/Residential Transition) Zoning Use District, which allows townhouses as a permitted use. The property is located within the Riverhead Water and Sewer districts.

“East Second Street in Riverhead was chosen as the ideal location for these proposed townhouses due to its proximity to the historic center of Riverhead and its allowance for townhouse construction in the zoning,” Mr. Pepemehmetoglu said in an email to the Riverhead News-Review. “The area is also part of various revitalization projects, such as the Downtown Revitalization Project and the Railroad Avenue project, which aim to enhance the area’s liveliness and appeal.”

Each unit will feature two bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms. Primary bedrooms will have cathedral-style ceilings. Additionally, each unit will have a small backyard and one parking space within the property, Mr. Pepemehmetoglu said.

The units will be equipped with high-quality thermal and sound insulation, he added.

The rental cost of the apartments “has not been determined yet and will be decided based on the current economic conditions,” Mr. Pepemehmetoglu said.

The parcel was the site of a historic three-story home that caught fire in November 2021. The quick-rising flames that engulfed the historic home were sparked by improperly discarded cigarettes, according to a Suffolk County Police arson investigation. The blaze caused the death of five members of the Rivera family, immigrants from Guatemala who lived in the home’s third-floor apartment and were trapped after the flames destroyed the only staircase to the third floor. 

Family members of the people who died in the fire have since filed wrongful death actions against Riverhead Town and the owner of the home, Carmela Cannella, who lived on the first floor. The first wrongful death action was filed in February 2023 by Jason Hernandez, administrator of the estate of Zonia Dinora Rivera Mendoza, one of the victims of the fire. The second and most recent wrongful death action was filed on July 2023, by Ruben Gonzalez Godoy, administrator of the estate of Andrea Gonzalez Rivera, the youngest victim, who was 16 years old. Ms. Cannella and her tenants from the second floor were able to escape the fire.

The singed skeleton of the home was demolished in October 2022. The cleared vacant lot was purchased for $500,000 in March 2023 by 46 East 2nd Project LLC, a company owned by Mr. Pepemehmetoglu.

“We are deeply saddened by the recent fire that tragically took the lives of five people in the beautiful historic house where this project will hopefully rise soon,” he said. “Our project aims to honor the history and character of Riverhead while providing a modern and sustainable living environment for future residents.”

The project is currently in the process of obtaining site plan approval from Riverhead Town. Town officials say the application has yet to be reviewed and may be subject to changes. The application was filed a month ago, according to Mr. Pepemehmetoglu. He hopes to start construction this year.