From working with nearby communities like Riverside to creating more local attractions for families, Riverhead residents met recently in Aquebogue and shared their thoughts on the challenges facing downtown Riverhead and solutions to revitalize it.
Town officials said more than 100 residents attended a special community forum last Thursday at the Riverhead Senior Center. The feedback from residents will be considered by architectural planning firm Urban Design Associates as it develops the pattern book for the downtown business district, which will be used as a guide for future development downtown.
Residents separated into groups of about 10 or more people and discussed the area's weaknesses and strengths, as well as opportunities for improving downtown.
Fran Sabbatino, of Riverhead, said her group decided that while the downtown's many strengths include a small-town atmosphere, a centralized location and the local culinary school operated by Suffolk County Community College, overcrowded housing and lack of available parking are challenges.
“And there are no supermarkets. We want a Trader Joe’s,” Sabbatino said, drawing applause from residents.
Greg Folk, a Flanders resident and local businessman, said his group felt Riverhead’s problems include a negative public perception, traffic congestion and a lack of small shops.
Phyllis Gambrill, a longtime Riverhead resident, suggested offering more events such as music concerts and other attractions to liven downtown, which she said had diminished over time due to security concerns. Ensuring safety for pedestrians at night and addressing code enforcement and flooding issues also need consideration, Gambrill said.
“I think we have a real gem of a town,” she said. “It has to be polished, and then, it will definitely shine.”
Barry Long, president and CEO of Urban Design Associates, said that after the meeting he noticed the groups had brought up similar concerns, such as the need for improving parking and addressing overcrowded housing. That, Long said, will give the firm “a good direction” in developing the pattern book.
Urban Design Associates will now summarize all the community input from last week's meeting, finalize recommendations for the downtown area and return to Riverhead in late January to get community feedback.
“It was a really great turnout and it shows that the residents of Riverhead are interested in the downtown area and want to be part of the process,” Town Councilwoman Catherine Kent said after the meeting.