Developer to 'crowdsource' plan for Riverside revitalization

A man walks through an empty gas station A man walks through an empty gas station on Flanders Road in Riverside on May 19, 2014. Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

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A master developer hopes to "crowdsource" a new vision for Riverside, the struggling and blighted hamlet just south of downtown Riverhead, by soliciting input from residents online and at community meetings.

Some residents and officials say Riverside, which is home to about 3,000 people and is in Southampton Town just over the Riverhead Town border, has the potential to be a gateway to the Hamptons.

But they say that vision is hampered by boarded-up houses, shuttered businesses, economic stagnation and crime.

"It's a very rundown-looking neighborhood approaching us from the traffic circle," said Sandy Adams, 71, who has lived in the Riverwoods mobile home park in Riverside for 13 years. "It's embarrassing when friends come for the first time."

In December, Southampton Town chose Plainview-based Renaissance Downtowns Llc to draft a blueprint for revitalizing Riverside and work with private landowners and governments to make it a reality. The developer has about a year to issue recommendations for zoning changes. But it will have to win over residents who said they have grown weary of studies that lead nowhere.

"There have been so many promises of redevelopment over here, and it always falls through," said Robert A. Brown, 73, who has lived in Riverside for 17 years. "It has developed a feeling of apathy."

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Renaissance Downtowns said that in the next few weeks it will launch the "Riverside Rediscovered" campaign, which will call on residents to submit ideas for developing the hamlet on a new website and in community meetings.

"That process will ultimately result in a plan, but it will result in a plan that has community input every step of the way," said Renaissance president Donald Monti.

Participants will have to sign an online form promising any ideas they pitch are "socially, environmentally and economically responsible," Monti added.

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Adams said she plans to participate online.

"We all have different vision," she said. "Anything would be a positive thing."

In recent years, Renaissance Downtowns launched websites to crowdsource ideas for Hempstead and Huntington Station.

Monti said the eventual plan for Riverside may involve the developer, which owns no land in Riverside, building on town-owned property. The firm will also assist private landowners in developing or redeveloping their properties, he added.

Southampton Town officials said the eventual plan could involve mixed-use buildings with storefronts downstairs and apartments above, but a lot depends on public input.

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Councilwoman Christine Scalera envisions a "Greenport or Sag Harbor aesthetic."

"When you get to Riverside, I would like you to feel like you're in the Hamptons," she said. "But in the end, it's up to the community. We didn't want this to be another planning study. We wanted an action plan."

The campaign coincides with other efforts to revive the hamlet. Suffolk County has committed to rebuilding a traffic circle connecting Riverside to downtown Riverhead in addition to completing a study on installing sewers in the area.

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