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Riverhead’s Howell House won’t be turned into parking lot

Property owner Joseph Petrocelli, left, Riverhead Town Councilwoman

Property owner Joseph Petrocelli, left, Riverhead Town Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, and Richard Wines, chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commision, in front of Howell  House. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

A 112-year-old historic home on Riverhead’s Main Street historic corridor that was once facing demolition to make way for a parking lot will now be preserved.

The 2 1⁄2-story Howell House on East Main Street — built in 1905 by former town supervisor and banker B. Frank Howell, the scion of two of Riverhead’s leading founding families — has been abandoned for years. It was eyed to be demolished by property owner and developer Joseph Petrocelli, who owns Ronkonkoma-based J. Petrocelli Development Associates.

The home would have been turned into a 24-space parking lot for the Preston House, a historic property Petrocelli renovated into a restaurant and 20-room boutique hotel.

Riverhead’s Landmarks Preservation Committee, which oversees all requests to remove buildings in the town’s historic corridor, in June denied Petrocelli’s request to tear down the building.

“The rules are that if it can be preserved and can provide reasonable return, it should be preserved,” said Richard Wines, the landmark commission’s chairman. “It was the committee’s feeling the house was in good enough shape that it could be preserved.”

Representatives of the developer asked the Riverhead Town Board at an Oct. 18 public hearing to overturn the committee’s decision. The board had yet to make a decision on the matter.

However, Petrocelli has now decided to instead renovate the home after town officials approached him with alternatives.

Wines and Town Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said they spoke with Petrocelli about the benefits of renovating the house, including offsetting up to 40 percent of total restoration costs via federal and state restoration tax credits available to property owners in the National Register Districts for historic preservation. Petrocelli was also presented with an alternate parking plan drawn up by landmarks commission member Kelly Shauger to accommodate the Preston House.

The renovations, estimated to cost about $670,000, are expected to start next year, Petrocelli said Friday.

Petrocelli said he is excited to take part in renovating his third historic property in Riverhead. He has restored two East Main Street buildings — the Preston House, built in 1905, and the 167-year-old East Lawn building.

Town Supervisor Sean Walter called the project “an excellent example of how groups like the Landmarks Preservation Commission, local government and the private sector can come together to find creative means to preserve Riverhead’s rich architectural and historic culture.”

Giglio said she was “ecstatic with the outcome of our conversation and look forward to seeing this renovation when it is complete.”

Wines said his committee was also pleased with the end result. “As far as we’re concerned, [the Petrocelli family] are our heroes,” he said.

History tour

The 1905 Howell House has been deemed both “architecturally and historically significant” by local preservation officials. It was previously used as legal offices before becoming vacant for several years. The house is in the Second and Ostrander Historic District in Riverhead. Richard Wines, chairman of the town’s Landmarks Preservation Committee, said Howell House is part of three significant historic East Main Street structures that serve as “an important contributor to the historic appearance of our downtown.”

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