Riverhead Town has a number of of active civic associations galvanized by issues facing their communities, but until now there hasn’t been a civic association for people who live and work downtown, in the heart of Riverhead.

That changed this week when several dozen residents of downtown Riverhead gathered in the basement of the Riverhead Free Library May 14 to brainstorm issues facing the rapidly changing downtown that they’d like to tackle.

The group, which calls itself the Heart of Riverhead Civic Association, was founded by downtown residents Cindy Clifford, Steven Kramer and Juan Micieli-Martinez, who have incorporated it as a 501(c)4 non-profit.

They said at the inaugural May 14 meeting that, while they’d thought about forming a civic association for years, it wasn’t until a recent fire on Second Street killed five family members that they realized that the community here needs a vehicle to become more engaged.

“That was a catalyzing moment, losing five of my neighbors,” said Mr. Kramer. “If I’m not going to stand up for people down here, who will?”

Mr. Kramer said he envisioned the group would be accessible to all people, non-partisan, diverse and would attempt to include people who speak languages other than English.

Ms. Clifford, who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, said Riverhead feels like a small town, while still having some of the advantages of a larger community.

“A lot of us have chosen this as our home,” she said. “We invest in it with our lives, and we’re interested in being a bigger part of its future.”

Mr. Micieli-Martinez, who has lived downtown since 2008, has been coming downtown his entire life — his father worked at the Riverhead Post Office and his mother worked at the former TrueTech manufacturing site at the corner of Elton Street and East Main Street.

He said that, while the group will charge membership dues, it will also make membership accessible to people who can’t afford it.

“We have operational expenses, insurance,” he said. “We would love to have social events and a scholarship and other community-building events.”

Residents in attendance shared concerns ranging from the town’s encouragement of five-story buildings downtown, to parking for those five story buildings, to transparency and ethics in town government to why the town board hadn’t incorporated more community suggestions into its ‘pattern book’ of design ideas for downtown to litter and illegal dumping.

Many said they would like to see the civic association make members aware of public hearings to be held by the town on important issues.

One resident of Howell Avenue, who used to live in Flanders, said he enjoyed being a member of the Flanders-Riverside-Northampton Civic Association because they often brought in elected officials, school and emergency services representatives to talk about issues facing the community.

Ms. Clifford asked former Town Councilman Jim Wooten, who was in the audience, to look into a forum on trash cans and litter to kick off the group’s civic engagement.

“It’s not going to be like we’re demanding change or that things be done our way — we’re looking to give input,” she said.

“Participation from the public helps us steer and mold what we want the civic association to be,” said Mr. Micieli-Martinez. “We envision having position statements on issues, and we intend to have a social element too.”

The organizers said they would compile attendees’ responses on surveys handed out at the meeting before planning a regular monthly meeting date, which could be on Saturday mornings or weeknights or alternating between the two, depending on the community’s preference.

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 editor@eastendbeacon.com

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