Southampton Town planners and Councilwoman Christine Scalera presented a proposal last week that seeks to hire an economic planning firm to design and implement a sweeping revitalization plan for a blighted commercial section of Riverside.
The proposal, which was made before the Town Board during last Thursday’s work session, was applauded by some as a welcome step in the years-long effort to spur redevelopment in the hamlet. But others, including board members, said they did not know Ms. Scalera and town staffers were working on such a plan, noting that it draws from reams of information and recommendations that Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst’s office and local residents have been working on for two years.
The request for quotations, or RFQ, calls on consulting groups to present their qualifications for guiding the revitalization of the areas of Riverside near the traffic circle. The task of the consultants would be to confirm which of dozens of redevelopment considerations should be undertaken by the town, craft a strategy for overcoming the numerous hurdles to redevelopment, and set up the zoning and design guidelines that would ultimately steer the redevelopment effort.
The final product is foreseen as a mixed-use patchwork of new development that is focused on a pedestrian-friendly hamlet center area. It would be constructed on dozens of private and a handful of publicly owned properties, and coordinated under a single umbrella.
“We don’t want this to be a piecemeal redevelopment, so the property owners have to be on board,” said Town Planning and Development Administrator Kyle Collins. “A master developer could take a look at the area in question and coordinate the redevelopment, and work with the existing property owners and get them on board with a comprehensive development.”
Since the 1999 update of the town’s Comprehensive Plan, which highlighted Riverside and neighboring Flanders as in need of economic redevelopment, the town has conducted three wide-ranging studies, the most recent being an examination of the deterioration of the area near the traffic circle and the obstacles to shaking off the blight.
Mr. Collins said the RFQ is the first step toward taking the recommendations of those studies and the years of discussions with area residents and business owners, and crafting them into a concrete plan of action. He said that once a consultant has been chosen, hopefully later this year, it would like take nine months to a year for the group to draft an action plan. The town would then have to again search for a suitable master developer to spearhead the redevelopment initiative.
Two years ago Ms. Throne-Holst created the Riverside Economic Development Task Force, a collection of town officials, residents and business owners, to hone the town’s approach to the redevelopment. The region is also the focus of an ongoing sewer study that is conducted with county funding, as septic loading of increased use in any redevelopment are posing significant hurdles to overcome.
At last week’s work session, Ms. Throne-Holst bristled at Ms. Scalera’s proposal, saying it seemed to step on the toes of the task force’s efforts.
“We have already done a lot of work toward something like this, a lot of legwork,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “The fact that this came to our attention on Monday [June 3] speaks to me of a little bit of a broken process there.”
Ms. Scalera, who is one of the board’s liaison’s to the hamlets of Flanders, Riverside and Northampton, said her resolution is intended to work in conjunction with ongoing community efforts, and not an attempt to intercept them.
“I resent that,” Ms. Scalera said. “I wanted it made clear in this document that we appreciate all the work that people have done and that this is only possible because of the work they have done.
“I would hope we all join and work together on this—it’s a large package,” she continued. “If we’re all on the same goal, I would think however we move forward would be welcome.”
After the meeting, Flanders, Riverside, Northampton Community Association President Vincent Taldone said members of the task force knew that Ms. Scalera and the town planners were drafting the RFQ and welcomed the ancillary effort to their years of discussions. He said that regardless of the raised hackles, the subject of the minor discord was a welcome change for the region that had grown accustomed to neglect and unfulfilled promises from official corridors.
“We’re thankful for everything that this Town Board is doing,” Mr. Taldone said. “It’s unheard of for us. They’re coming to every meeting. We’re seeing a big improvement in the attention being paid to our area. FRNCA is thankful to have the level of commitment we’re seeing from both the supervisor and other Town Board members, as well as [County Legislator Jay] Schneiderman.”
Ms. Scalera agreed to table her resolution until next month, so that the detailed plan could be discussed during the next meeting of the economic development task force.