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Riverhead property owners form group over proposed height limits

The town's proposal would limit building heights to two floors instead of five in the core downtown area.  

Main Street looking east in Riverhead in November

Main Street looking east in Riverhead in November 2018. The town is considering proposed code amendments that will include limitations to how tall some buildings can be. Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

Downtown Riverhead property owners have formed a new group they say will protect their rights in the debate over proposed rules to limit building heights.

Martin Sendlewski , who operates an architect firm on Roanoke Avenue, said the Riverhead Downtown Property Owners Coalition was formed in late December over the town board's consideration of a proposal to create building height restrictions. The limits would affect the town’s DC-1 zoning district, which extends from the south side of East Main Street from Griffing Avenue to just past Ostrander Avenue in the downtown business area.

“We have property rights and if the town tries to infringe on those property rights, then we’re going to see to it that doesn’t happen, and certainly not without a fight,” said Sendlewski, 60, of Riverhead.

Coalition members knew town officials and the Downtown Revitalization Committee were discussing the proposal in the fall and were concerned property owners were not being represented in the discussions, Sendlewski said.

“The fact of the matter is all of us, as owners, we never got any notice or any invite or any request for us to participate in looking at the legislation regarding the zoning of our properties,” said Sendlewski. “We haven’t been included as part of the process.”

The DC-1 district currently allows a maximum building height of 60 feet. The proposed zoning regulations would set the maximum building height at two stories, or 24 feet in that area. Buildings could reach three or four floors through the transfer of development rights, a program that allows property owners to sell the rights from their land to a builder 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 for owners to be able to purchase development rights there, the town proposal states. 

Sendlewski said he and coalition members worried such restrictions could slow down revitalization in Riverhead and hurt property owners’ ability to develop and make money from their buildings.

 Between 15 and 20 property owners in the DC-1 area make up the coalition, Sendlewski said. While the group has not scheduled regular meetings, members were staying in touch often via emails and would be monitoring the zoning issue, Sendlewski said. 

Coalition members asked the town board to be included as part of the town groups that develop building regulations. Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said it would be “very appropriate” for coalition members to be part of the discussion.

“We’re still discussing what the proposal is that we want to put out there,” Jens-Smith said. “Once we have a little more of a concrete draft, then we’ll look to take public comments on it.”

A public forum on the proposal will be held Jan. 31.

Town Councilwoman Catherine Kent, liaison to the downtown committee, said she was open to property owners being part of the discussion, but wanted them to also think long term about how downtown Riverhead looks in the future.

“I do think that’s fair, to ask us to look at the business model and make sure we can attract developers, and we are looking at that,” Kent said. “However, I don’t think the community wanted five-story, full build-out buildings on our Main Street.”

 The Riverhead Downtown Property Owners Coalition

  • Created in December to make sure property owners are heard in discussions about restricting building heights in the downtown area.
  • Made up of between 15 and 20 property owners thus far.
  • Met Jan. 16 with the town's Downtown Revitalization Committee to discuss the building heights proposal.
  • Members are to be invited to join the Downtown Revitalization Committee, town councilwoman Catherine Kent said Thursday. 

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