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Riverhead considers overlay district to spur renewal near LIRR station

The LIRR station in Riverhead on Saturday, April

The LIRR station in Riverhead on Saturday, April 6, 2019 where The Town of Riverhead wants to install to install security cameras as part of a larger policing plan. Credit: Randee Daddona

To spur transit-oriented development in a blighted area in downtown Riverhead, town officials are considering a code change that would adopt a new overlay district for a part of the urban renewal area along Railroad Avenue. 

The area includes the Long Island Rail Road station parking lot on Railroad Avenue — which is in the town’s Downtown Center 3: Office Zoning Use District, or its DC-3 district — and extends from Sweezy Avenue to Roanoke Avenue. It also spans the northern section of West Main Street.

Riverhead was awarded a $25,000 grant in 2018 from Empire State Development for a strategic plan for transit-oriented development as part of efforts to revitalize the blighted area. It was rezoned into the DC-3 district in 2004 to allow for more development there as part of the town’s comprehensive master plan. However, many of the plan’s recommendations, including apartments and live/work space as preferred land uses, were not implemented. As a result, the town had not seen much investment there, said Dawn Thomas, Riverhead’s community development director.

“Even though we rezoned the area, literally no development has taken place within that area,” Thomas said. “So whatever we were doing wasn’t effective, and we needed another direction to move in.”

To attract a master developer, potentially improve Riverhead’s bids this year for downtown revitalization funding and ultimately reinvent the area, Thomas and Kathy Eiseman, a partner at Melville-based environmental planning firm Nelson, Pope and Voorhis, recommended to the Riverhead Town Board at its March 12 work session that Riverhead adopt a new overlay district for the area.

The overlay district rules would apply to blighted and/or vacant land parcels 20,000 square feet or larger. Those rules would allow developers to create mixed-use development, or a combination of residential and nonresidential buildings.

“In those cases, a developer would be able to come in with a project that would be a little more dense and a little more flexible in the uses, which means we would be able to get more revitalization out of that area,” Thomas said. “We’re also looking for arts and cultural improvements and transportation. Those would be the kinds of things we would be targeting as amenities to whatever development is there.”

Board members appeared to welcome the code change. Councilwoman Catherine Kent said the plan appeared to complement recent efforts to update the town’s master plan. “It is exciting,” Kent said.

Thomas said her office is working on a resolution to submit for a public hearing at a later date to take comments on the proposed code change.

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