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Riverside developer search approved

In an effort to revitalize one of the poorest sections of Southampton, the town board voted on Aug. 13 to begin soliciting a master developer to remake the Riverside area.

Officials imagine a downtown area of three-story shops and apartments replacing the padlocked commercial buildings, boarded-up gas station and a former Howard Johnson's currently on Route 24, near the traffic circle on the Riverhead border.

Across the river from the burgeoning downtown Riverhead would be nature trails on 14 acres of land Suffolk County bought in 2011, connected over the Peconic River by a pedestrian bridge, according to preliminary plans being circulated by Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk).

"The overall goal is to take a blighted area and turn it around," Schneiderman said. "It will bring economic development, taxes and jobs."

One of the first components of the plan would be the foot bridge that would rise 24 feet above the high tide mark on the Peconic River, Deputy Southampton Supervisor Frank Zappone said.

The footbridge, which is required to be that high so the waters would still be navigable by boat, would provide a destination for visitors and serve as a catalyst for the area, according to Zappone.

Riverside, he said, would be a place to visit after a trip to the South Shore's beaches or North Fork wineries.

The plans are still years away. While the town is in line for a $15,000 grant from Suffolk County, it is awaiting word on a million-dollar grant application it submitted to the state to cover the project's full $1.4 million cost.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter praised the effort, including the pedestrian bridge, which the Riverhead Town Board voted to support.

He said visitors would stop to look at the Peconic River from the top of the bridge as they eat ice cream cones. "It would be another destination for them," Walter said.

Schneiderman, though, believed it was premature for the town to solicit developer interest. He said the town should do more outreach with property owners. "They should wait until they assemble all the property owners in the area," he said. Going forward with the plan at this time "might ruffle feathers."

The plan also would need a sewer system. Walter said Riverhead's sewer system is at capacity, and can't easily expand. Schneiderman estimated it would cost $3 million to build two small sewer treatment plants. That could be paid for by an untapped county sewer fund, he said. A county sewer study for the area will be completed by Sept. 9, he said.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the status of the search for developers.

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