Downtown Riverhead
Downtown Riverhead

More unique shops, a coffee shop and bookstore, access to the river, a grocery store and a multiplex are among the top changes people would like to see to downtown Riverhead, according to a survey conducted last year by a consortium of groups studying the potential redevelopment of downtown, and planners are now getting down to work to see how to facilitate those changes.

Consultants from Nelson, Pope & Voorhis, Sustainable Long Island and designers Hawkins, Webb and Jaeger are hosting the second of two public outreach sessions on their work this coming Tuesday, May 20 at the Suffolk County Community College Culinary Arts Center on Main Street in Riverhead.

There will be two sessions, one from 3 to 5 p.m. and another from 7 to 9 p.m.

Charles Voorhis and Kathy Eiseman, both planners from Nelson, Pope & Voorhis, outlined their work to date in a presentation to the Riverhead Town Board May 15.

The scope of their work has broadened since the town began working on the study through a $567,000 New York State Department of State Brownfields Opportunity Area (BOA) grant last year.

Last week, the town board agreed to fund Nelson, Pope & Voorhis’s services to prepare documents for the new downtown historic district.

Ms. Eiseman said that work will include designating historic areas of mostly-residential Second Street, which would then be eligible for 40 percent tax credits for people who want to restore the buildings there.

She added the consultants are also looking into participating with the national Wild and Scenic Rivers program to build walking trails, parks and access sites along less-developed parts of the Peconic River, which flows down the length of the BOA study area, which lies along Route 25 from the Tanger Mall to Hubbard Avenue.

Ms. Eiseman said next week’s forum at the culinary arts center would include one room devoted to the study underway, and a separate room, called a “Dare to Dream” room, where people will be encouraged to share their ideal vision for what downtown Riverhead can be.

“In planning, you really want to think big,” she said.

Ms. Eiseman and Mr. Voorhis said they believe downtown can economically support at least 60,000 more square feet of retail, restaurant and office space.

Under the current zoning, full-buildout of downtown Riverhead could yield 500,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor alone, said Mr. Voorhis, who added that the town’s five-story building height limit could raise that number to 1.7 million square feet.

“How much development is feasible, and what makes sense?” said Ms. Eiseman.

Mr. Voorhis said his firm is looking into two potential alternatives to the current DC-1 downtown zoning district, both of which would eliminate the possibility of a fifth floor in new construction and would only allow 60 percent lot coverage of the second floor. In the first alternative, he said, they would allow 40 percent coverage on the third and fourth floors, and in the second, they’d only allow 25 percent coverage on the third and fourth floors.

Town Supervisor Sean Walter said downtown’s loose zoning restrictions have been part of the reason that the owners of the bulk of vacant downtown stores have kept the prices on their property much higher than the market should dictate.

“They think they’re holding platinum, when they’re not even holding silver,” he said. “Property owners thought we were kidding when we said we would be rezoning, but they’d better get moving on projects now or they’re going to miss the boat.”

The planners are also looking into the feasibility of building a parking garage downtown, in the area between the courts and the train station, a necessity if Riverhead wants to lure a multiplex downtown. They also envision a grocery store in that area.

The planners hope to be finished with their study this summer and to present it to the public this fall.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at

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