Master Developer Pitches Major Changes for Area Surrounding Riverhead Railroad Station
Pictured Above: Torti Gallas + Partners’ design for the property across from the train station.
The area surrounding the Riverhead Train Station could look dramatically different four years from now, after the Riverhead Town Board voted Feb. 15 to hire a development team that plans to build a large, mixed-use building and plaza across the street from the train station, along with a parking garage, with shops on the level of the streetscape, on the site of a current county-owned parking lot across Griffing Avenue from the Suffolk County Supreme Court.
The Riverhead Town Board voted unanimously to hire master developer RXR Realty and housing developer Georgica Green Ventures, which built the Riverview Lofts building on Riverhead’s East Main Street, to redevelop the area.
The two companies are working with architect Erik Aulestia of the firm Torti Gallas + Partners to design the buildings.
Riverhead issued a request for proposals to redevelop the area around the railroad station in March of 2021, and a committee of volunteers and a consultant picked these firms after vetting the companies since June of 2021.
The town was seeking a “Transit-Oriented Development,” or TOD, in an area rezoned the Railroad Avenue Urban Renewal Area Overlay District last year, allowing increased development in the area. TODs are designed to make it easier for people to live without cars by providing housing adjacent to public transportation. In addition to the railroad, Suffolk County buses have a stop on Railroad Avenue. The town received a grant from New York State several years ago to plan the revitalization of the area.
Representatives from all three firms pitched their proposal to the town board at its Feb. 10 work session.
The architect, Erik Aulestia, told the town board that the development across from the railroad station, which is currently a town-owned parking lot, would include four- and five-story sections, with 243 upstairs apartments and a tower facing the train station adjacent to a public plaza, with shops downstairs.
“It’s really important that this building needs to not be monolithic. It needs to be a pedestrian scale,” said Mr. Aulestia of the variety in its façade.
The railroad station building itself, currently unused, would undergo minor modifications to accent its classic facade, and would contain a café.
On Griffing Avenue, the two-acre parking lot across from the court, an area currently awash in concrete and asphalt, would become a five-story parking garage, with room for between 420 and 520 cars, with shops along the streetscape of the garage and trees lining the street.
“Your streetscape should not be a garage. The court plaza redesign could really make it a public space that people want to be in, that’s actually welcoming, and that brings some green to the area,” said Mr. Aulestia, adding that the redevelopment will make Griffing Area more attractive to pedestrians and encourage them to walk down to Main Street to see more of what downtown Riverhead has to offer.
He added that his firm has done more than 100 transit-oriented development projects, and focuses on the five elements of placemaking in their design: incorporating public spaces; land use on the ground floor that ‘activates’ the streetscape; architecture that plays a role in creating a civic public environment; programming and community.
The project as currently designed fits within the current zoning of the area and would not require variances.
Georgica Green Ventures President David Gallo told the board that his firm is working with RXR on projects in Glen Cove and New Rochelle, and that, while Georgica Green is nowhere near the size of RXR, they’ve built 1,400 apartments, mostly on the East End, for affordable, senior and veteran housing, for victims of domestic violence and for storm recovery, much of which is near transit-oriented development.
Those projects include the five-story Riverview Lofts, with 116 apartments and 12,000 square feet of commercial space on East Main Street in Riverhead, and Speonk Commons, which is adjacent to the Speonk Long Island Rail Road station.
“We’re also contractors and property managers,” he said. “We’re long-term owners, who work with the community. Riverview Lofts had nine sources of funds, and we worked with minority and woman-owned businesses to get it off the ground.”
RXR Realty Senior Vice President Joe Graziose said he believes the project will be “a start to our relationship here in Riverhead.”
“We have the staying power to stay in,” he said of the project, which he said in an ideal world would take one year to plan, after which, if the county grants use of the Griffing Avenue parking lot, the parking garage would be built first so that there’s somewhere for cars to park once the Railroad Avenue site is built. Each location would take about 18 months to build, he said.
“That’s probably aggressive, but we’re pretty aggressive,” he said. “If ‘go’ is now, you’re probably looking at four years” to completion.”
Riverhead Community Development Director Dawn Thomas said the firms would still need to go through a Qualified & Eligible public hearing process, and the public will also have a chance to weigh in on any site plan or zoning applications that need to be prepared for the town’s land use boards.
“There will ultimately need to be multiple public hearings,” she said. “We have the land. They have the wherewithal. All we have to do is make it happen.”
“The creation of a Transportation Oriented Development at the Riverhead Railroad station will vastly increase public transportation options to live, work and play in downtown Riverhead and beyond,” said Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar. “I want to extend my upmost gratitude to the professional, non-partisan TOD Committee who did a tremendous amount of work to get the town board in position to accept the impressive proposal from RXR and Georgica Green. RXR is a regional and nationally respected developer and Georgica Green has already set a high standard of what can be done in Downtown Riverhead.”