Riverside Residents Raise Old Concerns During Community Meeting

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When those charged with leading Riverside’s revitalization effort opened the floor to members of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association on Monday night, two topics immediately sparked the ensuing conversation: traffic issues and the need for a grocery store.

“There have been so many studies,” Flanders resident Nikki Sacco said during the meeting, referring to the numerous traffic studies and failed revitalization projects pitched for the hamlet of Riverside over the past 30 years. “Every time we get together, we talk about this.”

Representatives of Renaissance Downtowns, the master development company behind the current revitalization effort, dubbed “Riverside Rediscovered,” had only one formal sitdown with community members prior to Monday night’s meeting. The company has one year to develop an action plan for the hamlet and present it to Southampton Town officials. The plan is supposed to include a blueprint to bring new businesses to the hamlet, and also recommend zoning changes and studies to help get their efforts off the ground.

Renaissance officials, who are not being paid by the town, will also conduct feasibility studies based on ideas proposed by the community as well.

On Monday night, the estimated three dozen residents gathered inside the David W. Crohan Center on Flanders Road continued to express mixed emotions about the latest effort—some were excited, others remained skeptical.

“I need to see more before I’m convinced,” Ms. Sacco said.

Sean McLean, vice president of planning and development for Renaissance, the head of Riverside Rediscovered and a longtime Flanders resident, told attendees that progress can only be made if his team is told what locals want to see done.

The community’s main demand—as underscored by several people on Monday night—was attracting a grocery store to Riverside. Currently, most residents must travel to Riverhead Town where several supermarkets are located.

“We need a grocery store out here because everyone just passes through on their way to Riverhead,” Linda Testagrose, of Riverside, said. “If we put a store out here, maybe people would stop.”

She explained that for those in the neighborhood, traveling to Riverhead or elsewhere to buy groceries gets expensive. She said the need has been expressed to developers in the past, though no one has ever picked up the ball.

Mr. McLean explained that while a chain grocery store would bring more people to the area, his company would prefer to see a smaller, locally owned establishment open in the hamlet. He also said he would be open to looking into whatever the community decides, but it would be up to residents to convince those chain markets that such an store would thrive in Riverside.

“Now, we have to figure out how to demonstrate to grocery store owners that it’s important and worthwhile,” Mr. McLean said. “We want entrepreneurs that will support the schools and the little league. We would rather see locally owned, local brands, and something that the community really takes pride in.”

The grocery store discussion blended into the conversation about the traffic in the area. One of the goals of Renaissance Downtowns is to create a pedestrian-friendly downtown—a far reach for Riverside at this point.

One resident noted that the idea of attracting a grocery store to a walkable downtown area contradicted itself.

“You want the grocery store, but you complain about the traffic, lights and danger of the crosswalks,” said David Fox, who lives in Flanders. “A grocery store is going to bring more traffic. You can’t have it both ways.”

The State Department of Transportation recently announced that two traffic lights will be added to Flanders Road—at its intersections with Oak Avenue and Longneck Boulevard in Flanders—in the near future, though an exact time frame has not yet been announced.

“It’s so dangerous,” Ms. Testagrose said of the highway. “I’m glad they’re bringing more lights to the area, but I still feel like I’m taking my life in my hands when I leave my development.”

Mr. McLean suggested that residents share their ideas and concerns with Siris Barrios, the community liaison for his company’s project, who was hired last month. She has an office at 108 Peconic Avenue in Riverside.

Ms. Barrios explained on Monday that she would make herself available to meet with residents, business owners, nonprofits and other community stakeholders over the next few months.

“We will work through every channel to facilitate community engagement,” she said, noting that those involved can vote and post ideas online, submit them in writing, or call her at the Riverside Rediscovered office.

“I ask everyone to assist me in this process,” she said. “You know the community, you know your neighbors. I’m asking for your help to spread the word and get everyone involved.”

The website, www.riversiderediscovered.com, is up and running. Ms. Barrios said getting registered on the site is vital for those who want to stay updated and involved with the project. However, for those who do not have access to a computer, she said she is available at the office by calling (631) 591-3926.

Riverside Rediscovered will hold its next meeting with members of the Riverwoods retirement community on Riverleigh Avenue on Wednesday, September 17, at 6:30 p.m., at the Riverwoods clubhouse. The next Riverside Rediscovered general community meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, October 1, at 7 p.m., at Phillips Avenue Elementary School in Riverside.

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