Southampton Town Board Takes First Look At Riverside Action Plan

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The master developer charged with designing the blueprints to redevelop the long-neglected hamlet of Riverside last week submitted its draft to Southampton Town, following a year of planning.

Sean McLean, the vice president of planning and development for Plainview-based Renaissance Downtowns, pitched his company’s 260-page draft to Town Board members last Thursday, April 30. His company was hired by the town last year, at no cost, to create a plan that attracts new businesses and people to the community by utilizing an assortment of traditional development tactics, such as rezoning, and combining them with feedback and suggestions from residents.

“It’s no accident that the community chose ‘Riverside Rediscovered’ as its name,” Mr. McLean said, referring to the community group created to engage residents and gather their input over the past year. “It’s a community that has lost its identity over the past 65 years … and one of our goals was to restore that sense of identity,” added Mr. McLean, who lives in the neighboring hamlet of Flanders.

The blueprint—a copy of which was not supplied to The Press because town officials said it was still in draft form and not an official document—incorporates Renaissance’s plan to move forward with an optional overlay zone that would encompass all of Riverside. The overlay zone, if implemented, would leave open the possibility of property owners altering the zoning of their lots, based on the suggestions from Renaissance representatives, or keeping their current zoning.

“The idea that we’re allowing for an opt-in at any time, but not ramming it down anyone’s throat, is part of the spirit of how this entire process has been approached,” Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said during last Thursday’s work session that was attended by more than a dozen residents who support Riverside Rediscovered.

The optional zoning overlay district, if eventually approved by the Town Board, would also include stipulations for property owners that would require the use of green technologies and hiring locally. “I really appreciate the fact that jobs will be accessible to residents now,” Councilwoman Bridget Fleming said during the meeting. “It seems like you’re really focused on that and I really appreciate it.”

The mixed-use buildings proposed under the draft would also offer affordable housing, including second-story apartments in some instances, for year-round residents.

Renaissance officials have broken Riverside into six proposed zoning districts. All of the properties and businesses in the hamlet were considered when drafting the action plan, but Mr. McLean explained that a few of the single-family homes and rental communities, including the hamlet’s mobile home parks, are not expected to be redeveloped into mixed-use properties.

“We want entrepreneurship. We want organic growth,” Mr. McLean said early last week, while presenting the draft to Riverside Rediscovered members and before addressing the Town Board. “We want creativity in the market, but they’re going to have to follow regulations to make sure that the identity of Riverside remains constant and the quality of construction materials and architecture is consistent.”

The first zone, called the Riverside Hamlet Center, is situated around the traffic circle and expands about a quarter-mile out. Mr. McLean said Renaissance pictures the Hamlet Center as having the tallest buildings with the greatest variety of mixed uses, which could include retail stores, hospitality businesses, cultural and entertainment uses, and even apartments. The layout, he said, will include off-street parking and wide sidewalks so that shoppers and residents can park and walk from shop to shop.

The Hamlet Center would also include walkways to the Peconic riverfront, he said.

The second zone, or the Riverside Hamlet Neighborhood, would include restaurants with outdoor seating, retail shops, office space, upper-floor apartments and supermarkets. The area would be within walking distance of the Hamlet Center zone.

Mr. McLean noted that early research suggests that the Riverside, Northampton and Flanders communities could support a 12,000-square-foot grocery store, something that residents have spent years lobbying for—unsuccessfully.

The suggested density proposed for each of the six districts decreases the further one travels from the traffic circle.

The third district, dubbed the Special District, would be situated between one-half and three-quarters of a mile from the traffic circle. That area, under the new zoning, would boast a mix of residential properties and lower-impact uses, such as smaller businesses.

The other district focused on homes is called the Riverside Suburban District, which would maintain the suburban character of the existing neighborhoods. It sits about a mile from the traffic circle and encompasses preexisting residential neighborhoods in the hamlet.

The final two districts in the draft—called the Gateway and Waterfront districts, respectively—focus on creating a better transition to Riverside by alleviating traffic in the area and opening up space along the Peconic River and adding businesses along the waterfront.

If the draft is ultimately adopted by the Town Board, a step that most likely will not be completed until December at the earliest, a State Environmental Quality Review will have to be conducted on the entire action plan, according to officials. The process will include public hearings as well as studies to see how the proposed changes would potentially impact the environment and quality of life in Riverside.

The next step would be creating a Generic Environmental Impact Statement, or GEIS, which would incorporate the findings from the environmental review as well as other studies and community input, according to Town Planning and Development Administrator Kyle Collins. Mr. Collins said he would like to see the drafted GEIS by the end of September.

Town Councilwoman Christine Scalera, who has been closely involved with the project, noted that she wanted the community to be the main focus of the plan.

“What we’re seeking to do here is what’s best for this community,” she said at last week’s meeting. “The fact that it has all these other components speaks to the viability of a project like this, but the focus is the community and how to better serve it and form the identity that’s been lost.”

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