Cindy Clifford and Juan Micieli-Martinez are two of three founders...

Cindy Clifford and Juan Micieli-Martinez are two of three founders of the Heart of Riverhead Civic Association, the first civic group to focus solely on the downtown area. Credit: John Roca

The founders of a new civic association in Riverhead say the group will be an advocate for residents on issues affecting the downtown area.

The Heart of Riverhead Civic Association, the first such group to focus solely on the downtown area — from the Peconic River north to Route 58 and Mill Road east to Route 105 — will launch May 14. Residents and business owners are invited to share concerns and ideas on shaping the future of the community, the organizers told Newsday. 

Co-founders Juan Micieli-Martinez, Cindy Clifford and Steve Kramer talked to Newsday about the group's mission.

Bringing voices to the table 

The co-founders said the group has become concerned with the increasing number of development proposals presented to the town in recent years. Transfer-oriented development around the LIRR station at Osborne Avenue and Railroad Street is one such proposal.

While the group said it is not opposed to development, it hopes to raise awareness of such projects and give the community representation in such issues, said Micieli-Martinez, who works in the wine industry on the East End.

“If you look at Riverhead, a lot of the proposed projects in terms of residential and commercial are slated for downtown Riverhead,” Micieli-Martinez said. “Historically, downtown has not had a civic [association]…so we have no representation downtown. We figured it was a good opportunity now to form and create something that will hopefully allow the voices of the residents to be heard.”

A forum for neighborhood issues

Kramer, a longtime Riverhead resident, said one issue that spurred the formation of the group was a November fire that tore through a century-old Victorian house in Riverhead, killing five people. The home apparently lacked smoke alarms, Suffolk police then said. 

In March, town officials began discussing proposed code changes to its rental dwelling unit law to boost safety, such as reducing the duration of rental permits from two years to one to allow code enforcement officials to inspect rental units annually. 

Kramer said the November fire raised certain public safety concerns for him and the need to change town safety codes to prevent future tragedies. The civic group could be a forum where people can discuss such issues, he said. 

“The group gives us the opportunity to hold meetings with folks and talk about these things,” Kramer said.

'Way to bring people together'

The group also hopes to help connect people who live and work in the downtown area in a nonpolitical way, through meetings and social events such as block parties, said Clifford, who is chairwoman for Riverhead’s Anti-Bias Task Force.

“There is so much diversity in this particular area. There are people who don’t know their neighbors,” Clifford said, “and we thought it is a really good way to bring people together."

The association will meet May 14 at 11 a.m. at the Riverhead Free Library. Most meetings will be open to all, but only residents will be able to vote, the group said. Annual membership dues will be $25 for residents, $50 for businesses and $25 for friends outside the district.

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