Tanya Collins, a lifelong Riverside resident, recalls the days when her door was left unlocked and she knew most of her neighbors. She also remembers feeling safe in her neighborhood.
Today, the opposite is true: Her doors are locked and bolted every day, even when she is home, and her neighbors could very well be strangers.
Ms. Collins, who addressed about 40 fellow residents at the inaugural Riverside Rediscovered meeting held last Wednesday, October 1, said she wants to be able to unlock her doors again. She also envisions a community that is safe to raise children in—a warm, friendly place.
She’s hoping that through Riverside Rediscovered, the revitalization project spearheaded by master-developer Renaissance Downtowns, the community will come together to bring her vision—and the vision of many other residents—to fruition.
“I am definitely on board with this project,” she said during last week’s meeting, held at the Phillips Avenue Elementary School in Riverside.
The project bases development plans on community input and ideas. The Plainview-based company has seven more months to develop an action plan for the long-neglected hamlet and present it to Southampton Town officials. The plan is supposed to include a blueprint for how to attract new businesses to the hamlet, and also recommend zoning changes and studies to help get their efforts off the ground.
Two additional puzzle pieces included in that blueprint will be creating two maps: The first will locate crime “hot spots” in Riverside, while the second will identify potential assets as identified by community members. The Riverside Rediscovered team will put together the crime map to show where residents do not feel safe because of drug dealing and other criminal activity, and also flag those areas that have poor lighting. The assets map, meanwhile, will show where residents now travel to buy food and services, with the goal of helping identify what goods and companies are needed in Riverside.
“Crime is something we have to hit head-on—with or without police,” Sean McLean, vice president of planning and development for Renaissance, the head of Riverside Rediscovered and a resident of Flanders, said during last week’s meeting. “Whether by creating more jobs, a community center, or having more community policing action. That’s part of the process as it unfolds.”
He noted that under the new zoning changes that Renaissance is proposing for Riverside, a plan that focuses on creating more mixed-use commercial and residential properties, businesses will be required to hire locally if they wish to open in the hamlet. Existing businesses can opt-out of the mixed-use code if their owners so choose.
Many residents expressed concerns about the crime, drugs and prostitution in the hamlet during the gathering.
Kathy Kruel, who started the neighborhood watch program in neighboring Flanders, said she would like to see something similar instituted in Riverside. “We need something down there,” she said, referring to the high-crime areas. “We need to get these kids off the street and make it safe.”
She, along with others, suggested a community or teen center as something Riverside Rediscovered should look into creating in the hamlet. The closest such facility is the town-operated David Crohan Community Center along Flanders Road in Flanders. Residents at the meeting, some of whom needed what was shared to be translated into Spanish, agreed with Ms. Kruel.
Siris Barrios, community liaison for Riverside Rediscovered, who also served as translator, said she has developed maps like these when she worked in Los Angeles. After creating them, she explained, she worked with local officials to develop strategies to combat the issues brought forward by residents.
“By bringing in the community, you can help identify areas where people feel unsafe,” she said when reached on Friday. “We need to identify these issues, so that we can help find solutions.”
With Riverside, Ms. Barrios said she and Mr. McLean will bring the completed maps to Town Hall so they can discuss various options, like creating a community watch program or opening addiction rehabilitation centers in the hamlet.
Over the next few weeks, Mr. McLean and Ms. Barrios will be asking residents to point out the trouble locations in Riverside. From there, Ms. Barrios added, she will work with a geographic information systems analyst from Renaissance to put the crime map together.
She hopes to present that map and review the information at next month’s meeting, which is scheduled for Thursday, November 6, at the Phillips Avenue Elementary School. A time has not yet been set.
Last week was the group’s first official community meeting. The two other times residents weighed-in on revitalization efforts were during Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association meetings.
Those in attendance last week spent time getting reacquainted with Renaissance’s style of development, which boasts a “triple bottom line” that focuses on social, environmental and economic responsibility. Residents were able to ask questions about the development process and, for the first time, were given the opportunity to break into smaller groups to whittle down ideas of what they envision for Riverside.
At the end of the meeting, one person from each group presented their ideas, which included calls for a community center, a small grocery store, a pharmacy, a dry cleaner, a laundromat, a village green and ball fields. Next month, Ms. Barrios will lead a discussion to hash out details before the community votes on their favorite ideas.
The top ideas will be fleshed out further and, once they have ample support from the community, will be part of a feasibility study conducted by Renaissance Downtowns.
Despite the overall positive vibe among those in attendance last week, there are still some who doubt that Renaissance will make a difference.
“I’m sick of hearing the same things,” Marianne Fitzgerald, another longtime Riverside resident, told Mr. McLean during the question-and-answer session. “I think, basically, you’re all full of crap, and I don’t have time to play these kinds of games. Come knock on my door when you’re done breaking into groups and when you’re actually doing something.”