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Riverhead officials mull limiting building heights along downtown Main Street

Changes would affect the zoning district from the south side of East Main Street from Griffing Avenue to just past Ostrander Avenue to help retain "rural, historic character."

Main Street in Riverhead on Friday.

Main Street in Riverhead on Friday. Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

Riverhead officials are in the early stages of discussing a proposal to set height limitations for buildings along part of downtown Main Street.

According to an intra-agency draft of the proposal, the amendments to Part 2, Article 29 of Chapter 301 of Riverhead’s zoning and land development regulations would change the dimensional requirements for buildings on all properties in Riverhead’s DC-1 downtown zoning district. The area covers the south side of East Main Street from Griffing Avenue to just past Ostrander Avenue.

“I fully believe it’s the will of the community to lower heights in the DC-1 area,” said Councilwoman Catherine Kent, the Riverhead Town Board’s liaison to the Downtown Revitalization Committee.

Kent — noting town officials have received calls from residents who did not want massive buildings placed in the downtown area — said the committee, which proposed the amendents, felt that code changes on building heights along that area of Main Street would retain the “rural, historic character” of the downtown area.

Preserving the view of the nearby Peconic River, which extends along Main Street, is also one of the goals of the proposed code amendments.

The district now allows a maximum building height of 60 feet. Among several other amendments, the proposed DC-1 district zoning regulations would set the maximum building height at two stories, or 24 feet, for a building in that area. Structures could rise to three or four stories with the transfer of development rights, a program that allows property owners to sell development rights or Pine Barren Credits from their land to a developer, which can be used to increase the density of development at another location. One development right would equal 3,000 square feet of gross floor area.

The town code would have to be amended to include the DC-1 zoning district as a receiving area so developers can purchase development rights there, according to the proposal.

On whether restricting building heights in that area would hinder growth or incoming building proposals downtown, Kent said she did not feel that would be the case, as there are other areas, such as by the train station or near the courts, where taller buildings would “fit in better visually and aesthetically.”

“I think if we change the look of our town and make it a more vibrant, walkable community, we will actually be able to attract more people to Riverhead,” Kent said.

At the board’s Nov. 8 work session, town officials weighed the merits and concerns regarding building heights.

Councilman James Wooten said that while he liked the idea of a visible riverfront, he was skeptical about limiting the size of buildings along all of Main Street. Wooten suggested having such limitations along the southern side of Main Street, where the river is, but not the north side.

Kent said suggestions would continue to be brought back to the revitalization committee for feedback as the amendments continue to be discussed.

Proposed code amendments

Zoning regulations would set the maximum building height at two stories, or 24 feet, but structures could rise to three stories (36 feet) with the transfer of development rights, or to no more than four stories (48 feet) with the purchase of development rights:

  • Maximum building height would be two stories, with commercial uses required on the first floor.
  • Any third-floor development would be required to be set back 15 feet from any front yard.
  • Any fourth-floor development would be required to be set back 30 feet from any front and rear yard.
  • Maximum impervious surface would be reduced from 100 percent to 80 percent to allow for public space, with the floor area ratio to be reduced proportionately.

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