Utility workers made upgrades around the Riverside traffic circle in mid-April.
Utility workers made upgrades around the Riverside traffic circle in mid-April.

The Southampton hamlet of Riverside, just across the Peconic River from Riverhead, has languished for decades. But this spring, there are some signs that is starting to change.

Utility workers have begun to prepare the traffic circle at the center of the community for a major reconstruction project that will soon break ground, widening it to two lanes to accommodate a glut of rush hour traffic.

Southampton Town is planning to install a new building in Ludlum Park for a satellite branch of Bridgehampton’s Children’s Museum of the East End.

And there are murmurings on the part of Riverhead Town that it might be willing to share some of its excess sewer capacity with Riverside.

It’s been more than a year now since Southampton adopted an action plan for Riverside designed by community redevelopment specialists Renaissance Downtowns. The plan is designed to allow for innovative redevelopment of Riverside — allowing for taller buildings in exchange for more community and environmental amenities.

But the big sticking point is that much of that redevelopment can’t be done without sewers.

Riverhead and Southampton towns are now in talks to study just how much of Riverside’s sewage capacity can be handled through Riverhead, a somewhat thorny issue because it deals with extending a sewer taxing district over town lines, which would require a public referendum.

But Riverhead has a sewer main that ends right by the Peconic Paddler, just across the river from Riverside, and the Suffolk County Center and jail in Riverside are also hooked up to Riverhead’s sewer district, so there is some precedent for this expansion.

Southampton Town is looking for a place in its budget to allocate $14,000 toward the $35,000 study.

“Lack of sewerage treatment is one of the impediments” to the Riverside Redevelopment Action Plan, Southampton’s principal planner, Kyle Collins, told the town board at a March 31 work session. “We wanted to keep the momentum going, and the quickest way to do that was to look at the existing capacity in Riverhead. They realize that the current blighted conditions in Riverhead affect them as much as us. It hurts their downtown.”

Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said there’s another reason Riverhead is interested in expanding its sewer district — currently only county sewer districts receive money from the county’s 3 percent sales tax sewer stabilization fund.

“This makes it more of a regional sewage treatment facility, which may strengthen their argument with the county,” he said.

Mr. Collins said the number of land transfers in Riverside quadrupled after the RRAP was adopted, as developers realized they could be buying into a neighborhood with a future.

But, said Mr. Schneiderman, “passers-by still don’t notice any change.”

Some things that are due to change soon include the new satellite children’s museum, which would be a modular 2,000-square-foot building paid for by a state community improvement grant for low-income communities, along with reconfiguration of sports fields in the park.

The Children’s Museum of the East End has been holding incredibly successful children’s art classes in Renaissance Downtowns’ office on Peconic Avenue for two years now.

“We want this to be a place for 2 to 12 year olds,” Renaissance Downtowns community liaison Siris Barrios told a group of devoted attendees at an April 20 meet-up of the community group Riverside Rediscovered. “We’re trying to be really visionary in how the space is used.”

“That’s gonna change the lives of kids in our area,” said Flanders, Riverside & Northampton Community Association President Ron Fisher at a recent FRNCA meeting.

Mr. Fisher said Southampton Town is also considering turning a vacant town-owned lot that was once a dumping site behind Marta’s Deli on Riverleigh Avenue into a temporary soccer field. That land is expected to ultimately be turned over to Rennaisance Downtowns for redevelopment.

The $5.2 million traffic circle project — whose estimated cost has gone up from $4 million as the project has been delayed — is expected to take at least 18 months, with work being done at night, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. along a stretch of highway that becomes clogged to a halt with commuter traffic during rush hours.

Work would be done Monday through Thursday between Memorial Day and Labor Day and Sunday through Thursday in the fall.

The project was also designed to keep road runoff from making its way into the nearby Peconic River.

When completed, the new traffic circle will be more egg-shaped than circular, and some approaches will be two lanes wide, easing the bottleneck that often occurs on Flanders Road as cars enter the circle.

Mr. Schneiderman said at the town’s March 31 work session that it’s unlikely the new sewer lines could be incorporated into the traffic circle design.

“I’d hate to tear up a beautiful new road to put in the sewer mains,” he said, “but the sewer mains will not be within that time.” 

Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming has been working to shepherd that project along, a process that involves advocating for county funds — hard to come by in a time of budget cuts — to be allocated to the East End.

At one point, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone had moved the money that had been allocated in the county’s 2016 capital budget for the traffic circle to 2018, but community members, led by Ms. Barrios and Riverside Rediscovered, traveled to Hauppauge to demand the funding be moved back to 2016. But work still has not yet begun.

Over the past few weeks, contractors have been doing utility work surrounding the circle.

Ms. Fleming was working in late April to secure $1 million for the project from the legislature’s Public Works, Transportation, & Energy Committee.

“I’m pleased to report $1 million was approved at committee this morning,” said Ms. Fleming on April 21. “This is a very large and complicated project, but planning and utility work is slightly ahead of schedule. We hope to break ground very soon.”

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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