Pictured Above: An artist’s rendering of the potential future look of Riverside.

It’s been eight years this December since Southampton Town approved the Riverside Revitalization Action Plan, a broad series of zoning changes and incentives designed to bring new life to what has long been one of the most blighted and impoverished hamlets on the East End.

At the time, hundreds of people turned out for public hearings and community meetings, most applauding a hope for change in their community.

But in the intervening years, just one new major construction project — a towering office building overlooking the Riverside traffic circle built on the site of the former Riverboat Diner in 2018— has been constructed. The traffic circle itself was also reconfigured during that time to enable a higher volume of cars to pass through safely.

The meager progress has one major culprit — the lack of sewers, which are necessary to do any kind of major development in this environmentally sensitive area along the banks of the Peconic River just south of downtown Riverhead. 

That’s likely to change in the coming year, as Southampton Town pushes forward with a long-languishing plan to build a sewage treatment plan in an industrial park behind the Suffolk Federal Credit Union branch on Flanders Road. 

Suffolk County announced in early November that it is allocating $5 million for the project, which is expected to cost about $35 million. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer allocated another $5 million in federal funding for the project in a 2022 federal omnibus spending bill. Southampton Town plans to spend $2.5 million in Community Preservation Fund water quality funds on the project, and to finance the remaining costs with a no-interest loan from New York’s Environmental Facilities Corporation.

The Southampton Town Board has set a public hearing on the supplemental Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement for the project for its Dec. 12, 2023 meeting at 1 p.m. at Town Hall.

The Town Board also voted at its Nov. 14 meeting to authorize the consulting firm Nelson, Pope & Voorhis, LLC to prepare a map, plan and report on the establishment of a Riverside sewer district, part of an existing contract with the firm that does not require further funding.

The board also voted to issue a Request for Qualifications for professional sewer municipal engineering services for the project, to be received by the Town Clerk by Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023.

The project is slated to be constructed in two phases, though the DGEIS is for both phases because it is illegal to segment the phases under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act. It will consist of sequencing batch reactors, which remove bacteria and nitrogen from wastewater, four pumping stations and an outflow to a constructed wetlands built on 3.7 acres of dredge spoil adjacent to the Peconic River.

The town is planning to offer Community Preservation Fund water quality improvement money for sewer hookups for two mobile home parks across Flanders Road from the industrial park where the units, adjacent to the river, currently have individual septic systems.

Utility workers made upgrades around the Riverside traffic circle in mid-April.
Utility workers made upgrades around the Riverside traffic circle in preparation for its 2017 reconstruction.

The development firm Renaissance Downtowns, which worked with the town on the Riverside Revitalization Action Plan, had planned to build on about 10 acres under the new zoning to spur further development in the 400-acre area covered by the revitalization plan, which created a “form-based” zoning overlay district, allowing a decreasing amount of development scale and use in six zones in concentric areas centered around the traffic circle.

Property owners who decide to develop under the overlay zoning will be allowed larger buildings with more prospective uses, particularly closer to the traffic circle, if they agree to the overlay’s design standards, which include both aesthetic features, green building designs and inclusion of workforce and senior housing. They will also be required to hire local workers.

The catch, as it often is in development, is that the Suffolk County Health Department Office of Wastewater Management ultimately controls the scale of construction, based on the expected amount of septic effluent from those projects. Finding an affordable sewage treatment option that the community will support has been a sticking point throughout the process, and Southampton briefly pursued tapping in to the Riverhead Sewer District, which extends halfway to the traffic circle down Peconic Avenue, to no avail.

Leading up to the plan’s 2015 approval, Renaissance Downtowns engaged community members through a group called Riverside Rediscovered, entertaining community suggestions that ranged from waterfront green space, a water fountain and ice skating rink, a riverside park and maritime trail, a boardwalk, an indoor recreation center, a children’s museum, a modern movie theater, a supermarket, restaurants along the river, a dedicated zip code, a year-round farmers market and a Riverside component of WaterFire on the Peconic River, a project spearheaded about a decade ago by East End Arts and the Riverhead Business Improvement District.

Since that time, the Children’s Museum of the East End has built an annex of the museum, CMEE in Riverside adjacent to the Head Start center on Flanders Road, with $527,000 in funding awarded in 2019 by the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council.

The Environmental Impact Statement that is the subject of the Dec. 12 hearing can be found by searching southamptontownny.gov using the terms “Riverside STP GEIS.”

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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