More than two dozen people who live, own property in or work in Riverside crowded into Renaissance Downtown’s office by the Peconic River Thursday night to hash out the details of the Riverside Revitalization Action Plan, which they plan to present to the Southampton Town Board in late April.
Attendees had their chance to vote on numerous community-generated ideas for potential businesses, public spaces, community services and infrastructure projects to help revitalize the hamlet.
The projects that receive more than 100 votes will receive a feasibility study, which can be used by potential entrepreneurs who are looking to finance projects in Riverside.
Currently, the most popular ideas included a boardwalk, shuttle bus service, a water fountain and skating rink, WaterFire on the Peconic River, a modern movie theater and a year-round farmer’s market.
Other ideas include restaurants, a supermarket, green spaces, a zip code for Riverside and Flanders, a coffeehouse and café and a children’s museum.
The children’s museum idea was a hot one, and Renaissance Downtown representatives Siris Barrios and Sean McLean recently got ahold of the folks at the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton, which has agreed to offer a pilot series of free art classes at Renaissance Downtown’s Riverside office on Peconic Avenue, beginning March 31.
The classes will be open to children 2 to 5 years old, and preference will be given to children who live in Riverside. They’re expecting to be able to accommodate 15 to 20 children.
WaterFire is also on the horizon, with the internationally renowned artist Barnaby Evans is putting his Paris installation on hold in order to build one on the Peconic River between Riverside and Riverhead.
WaterFire began as part of a revitalization effort in Providence, Rhode Island, which now has about 20 community events each year, centered around floating bonfires on the river.
“Countries come to recruit them and they came here, because this is the kind of project they want to do,” said Mr. McLean.
Ms. Barrios and Mr. McLean said the wish list of development ideas is often a reflection of what’s really needed in the community. For example, said Mr. McLean, in other areas redeveloped by Renaissance Downtowns where people don’t have work, good jobs were the priority.
Ms. Barrios said she’s been told the Riverside community has been very active in generating ideas, relative to its size. Only 3,000 people live in Riverside, while 4,000 more live in the neighboring hamlet of Flanders.
The Riverside Revitalization Action Plan will also call for a series of zoning proposals, which would be overlaid over the existing zoning on a voluntary basis.
Property owners could keep their properties in the same zoning district they are currently in, said Mr. McLean, or they could opt in to a new zoning district that could allow expanded uses for their buildings, but would also involve new restrictions, ranging from the hiring of local workers to more strict environmental regulations.
Mr. McLean said Renaissance Downtowns is already in contract to buy several parcels of land throughout Riverside, which they plan to redevelop to “light a spark” to the revitalization effort. He said work at those properties could begin as soon as 2016.
He added that Renaissance Downtowns plans to pay for an Environmental Impact Statement on the entire action plan, which could be used as the basis for individual property owners to redevelop their own land. He said he envisions the work they’re doing will make the permitting process much more streamlined for other property owners who want to revitalize Riverside.
Renaissance Downtowns envisions using a grid of streets in between the busy through roads Flanders Road and Lake Avenue, which could be redeveloped with restaurants with street dining, community centers and multi-story housing.
Mr. McLean showed some slides of downtown Sag Harbor, a former factory town that remains one of the most unique downtowns on the East End, in part due to its three-story buildings.
“Riverside can be a much more special and unique place than Sag Harbor,” he said, adding that even downtown Beirut has been redeveloped with streets that can be closed off at night for public promenading and street dining.
Renaissance Downtowns will present their action plan to the Southampton Town Board on April 24, and they plan to hold one more of their monthly meet-ups before that date.