It seems what Riverside residents want more than anything else is to make it known to the world that they live in a beautiful place.
Behind the open air drug markets, the street prostitution and the vacant and dilapidated buildings, organizers and community members who are working to revitalize this distressed hamlet just across the river from Riverhead see the potential for a beautiful waterfront district, with public access to the water and a chance at a vibrant nightlife.
“We have really good people here trying to promote revitalization for a long time,” Sean McLean, a vice president of the redevelopment firm Renaissance Downtowns, told a crowd that gathered Wednesday night for the unveiling of his firm’s Riverside Revitalization Action Plan, which he hopes to present to the Southampton Town Board April 30.
Of course, he was speaking to a room full of those dedicated residents, who have joined Renaissance Downtowns in the process of putting together the 200-page action plan over the course of the past year. Members of the community plan to go to town hall to present the plan to the town board at a work session — hopefully on April 30, but that date has not yet been confirmed.
The central concept of the plan is to adopt a “form-based” zoning overlay district, which property owners could use instead of the underlying zoning on their properties when they plan redevelopment.
Renaissance Downtowns is proposing six new overlay districts, most of which would be in concentric areas around the traffic circle, with the tallest buildings and the greatest number of uses closest to the traffic circle and more limited development with each ring out from there.
If property owners decide to opt in to the new zoning, they will also be required to implement green building designs and hire local workers.
Mr. McLean said his firm is working with property owners to build new through streets parallel to Flanders Road and Route 104 to allow residents and visitors to new shops to move off of the busy through roads and spend more time in Riverside.
“A lot of properties are landlocked and road frontage is important,” he said. “We need to make it so there are economic incentives for people to put roads on their properties.”
Some form of sewage treatment would also be necessary, as well as changes in the code to parking requirements and setbacks.
As part of the action plan process, Renaissance Downtowns representatives have been asking the community to vote on some of the things they’d most like to see in their hamlet. They will perform feasibility studies on all of the projects that received more than 100 votes.
Top ideas included waterfront green space, a water fountain and ice skating rink, a riverside park and maritime trail, a boardwalk, an indoor recreation center, a children’s museum, shuttle bus service, WaterFire on the Peconic River, a modern movie theater, a supermarket, restaurants along the river, a dedicated zip code and a year-round farmers market.
“Five of the top 10 ideas were about public access to parks and the river,” said Mr. McLean. “That’s a clear indication that the community took the time and effort to take pride in the physical environment in which you live.”
Mr. McLean said that, at the beginning of the process, he’d have bet that the top idea would have been a grocery store, but the grocery store didn’t even make the top ten ideas.
“You want things to do. We constantly heard that there isn’t enough for young people to do here,” he said, adding that Renaissance Downtowns’ successful partnership with the Childrens Museum of the East End to bring children’s art classes to their Peconic Avenue office proved there was a need for enriching activities. He added that people were calling from all over the area — from Wading River to Hampton Bays — to see if they could get their kids into the art classes, despite Riverside’s sullied reputation.
“That’s proof positive that if we have the right things here, people will come to Riverside,” he said.
As part of the action plan, Renaissance Downtowns also looked into the amount of business the current population could support. Riverside is currently the most economically distressed hamlet on Long Island “by a landslide,” he said, with a median home value of $74,000 and a median income of $34,000.
Despite that distress, Riverside residents spend about $2.4 million per year eating in restaurants outside of Riverside. They spend $1.4 milion at music and hobby shops, $4 million on shoes and clothing and $2.7 million on beauty and health care supply products.
Mr. McLean said the community in Riverside now could support a 10,000 to 12,000-square-foot grocery store, about the size of an Aldi’s, and could support 5,500 square feet of retail space devoted to hobbies and music.
“That did not include transient traffic,” he said. “We needed to find out what the community could support on its own.”
“We can have services here if we find the entrepreneurs,” he said. “This could be one of the coolest places on the East Coast.”
The full plan is not yet a public document, said Mr. McLean, but it will be made public once it is accepted by Southampton Town.