Riverside property owners who have watched as their own and neighboring buildings have emptied of tenants and, in some cases, fallen into disrepair, said they are hopeful that the involvement of a master planner—recently commissioned by Southampton Town—will spur change.
Barbara Kirschner, who owns Kirschner Glass and Mirror Corp. with her husband, Robert Kirschner, said the area wasn’t always the conglomerate of battered and boarded-up buildings that it is today.
“It was a beautiful little area,” she said. “We are the only surviving business.”
Her husband’s family has owned the business for close to 50 years, but most of its operations now occur in their Hampton Bays home rather than the single-story structure bearing the company’s name that sits off Flanders Road in the heart of the Riverside business corridor.
The family stores glass there, but uses the building for little else, she said. “You can’t have a business there anymore in the condition that it’s in, unless they fix it up,” she said, referring to the hamlet.
She added that she and her husband stopped maintaining the building to make it less attractive to criminals—a fact they aren’t proud of. “The worse it looks, the better chance we have that no one is going to break into it,” she said. “It’s better that way.”
Earlier this month, the Southampton Town Board selected Renaissance Downtowns, a Nassau County real estate development firm, to act as a “master planner” in the revitalization of Riverside.
Officials from the firm said during a presentation before the Town Board last week that they would work with property owners to develop a coherent vision for the area, with the hopes of attracting new development. Sean McLean, vice president of planning and development for Renaissance and a Flanders resident, explained that the firm is for-profit, meaning it invests its own money, at its own risk, with the goal of seeing some return by developing properties in a way that benefits private landowners and the town.
Ms. Kirschner said she’s optimistic that the firm could help local property owners, including her family, who would be interested in selling their land to someone who could run a successful business there. She said she is appreciative of the efforts of Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and the board. “This is the first administration that really is pushing forward, and I have nothing but great things to say about them,” she said.
She isn’t alone in her enthusiasm. David Abramson, a co-owner of the closed building across from the McDonald’s on Flanders Road that once housed a 99-cent store, said he is interested in working with Renaissance in attracting business to his property. He said the best-case scenario would be establishing a community of successful businesses that help one another in attracting customers.
“Right now, you have a busy corridor there, but the only people that are stopping are those that are stopping for McDonald’s,” Mr. Abramson said.
Shep Sheinberg, who lives in Naples, Florida, and owns the diner property adjacent to the Riverside traffic circle, said he is “hopeful” that the firm will help him sell or lease the land. He advised his property manager to reach out to Renaissance to discuss the possibility.
A kink in the plan, however, could be the lack of sewer infrastructure needed to support larger development. Mr. Abramson noted that his property is not zoned for a wet business—such as a laundromat or any type of food establishment—because the water table is too high.
Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman led a county-funded initiative to bring in consultants from the firm CDM Smith in Massachusetts to study the feasibility and costs of installing such a system that could service the Riverside business corridor. The consultants said earlier this fall that it would cost nearly $4 million to install a sewer system that would handle roughly 15,000 gallons of wastewater per day, enough to service the businesses, even after they are developed, stretching along Route 24 from the traffic circle to Vail Avenue. Property owners would then be responsible for yearly operational costs.
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said Tuesday that his town’s sewer system, which mainly serves the downtown area north of the Peconic River, could handle the added 15,000 gallons of flow if the Riverside business corridor were to hook up to it—a cheaper and quicker option for Southampton Town. But he explained that his sewer taxing district would need to be expanded to include the Southampton Town properties—a proposal Southampton Town officials did not support a few years back.
Though there are many questions surrounding the feasibility and impact of connecting the Southampton properties to the Riverhead sewer system, Mr. Walter said it’s an option worth exploring.
“Just because there are hurdles doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look at them,” he said. “Southampton will never be able to achieve what Riverhead has achieved in the Riverside and Flanders area without sewers, and Riverhead is dragged down by Southampton’s inability to achieve the success that we’re currently enjoying.”
Southampton Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi agreed that sewers are integral to any kind of significant development in Riverside, and he has stressed in the past the need for Riverhead and Southampton towns to work together to consider the possibility of reaching some kind of agreement. “I think that there is a real possibility that the boards of the two towns could make this happen if we’re committed to it,” he said.
Ms. Throne Holst could not be immediately reached for comment.
Brandon Palanker, vice president of marketing and public affairs for Renaissance Downtowns, said his firm is aware of the likelihood that investment into infrastructure will be necessary to revitalize the hamlet. He also said it was too preliminary to comment on the potential of installing a sewer system.
Mr. Schneiderman, who has been the main catalyst behind the sewer district initiative, said he is worried that some property owners might think that their only viable option would be to partner with Renaissance, which could eat into their profits. He also thinks the town’s scope might be too wide.
“It could be something that expedites the process, but it also could be something that slows it down,” he said, referring to the hiring of a master planner.
As for Ms. Kirschner, she remains optimistic that the latest effort to revitalize Riverside has a solid chance of being successful. “I think it’s going to happen this time,” she said. “I really do.”