March 29, 2006
Downtown Land Fight Heats Up
Who would have thought it: a fight has broken out over land in downtown Riverhead. For months, years even, no one seemed to want a slice of downtown, but now, it seems, it is a hot commodity.
During last week's town board work session, Robert Castaldi, owner of the Suffolk Theatre and officials from Apollo Real Estate and the Spector Group, the company that won a town bid to help revitalization downtown, argued over a 4000-square-foot piece of parking district property. The land sits behind the Suffolk Theatre and the old Woolworth building.
Apollo and Spector want the land to use as part of their project to transform the Woolworth building into a multiplex. Specifically, they say the property is needed for a multi-level parking garage that will adjoin a specialty food store and the multiplex.
Meanwhile, Castaldi, who asked for the land several weeks ago and has a tentative agreement with the town board to purchase if for $12,000, argues that he needs the property for his restoration of the Suffolk Theatre. The property will be used for handicapped access to the theater, a sidewalk, and plantings.
Now, the town board is faced with a dilemma: sell the land to the Suffolk Theatre as planned, or sell it for a much needed parking garage.
Riverhead Supervisor Phil Cardinale said during last Thursday's town board work session that his main concern in selling the land to Castaldi is that the land would be sold at below market value to a for-profit entity.
When the board first agreed to sell the land to Castaldi, many town board members were unaware that his theater renovation plan included schematics for six residential apartments.
Councilman Ed Densieski said, "I had no idea there were apartments in the plan until Tuesday night."
Cardinale also said Castaldi has completely amended his theater restoration plan. The plans are completely different from what the town expected when it sold Castaldi the building a year ago.
Cardinale said, "We sold it to them because we liked their plan. Now, they are changing it."
Castaldi has maintained that in order to ensure the sustainability of the theater, he had to change his plans to accommodate cabaret seating and the apartments.
Even after a lengthy discussion on the subject, the town board was unable to come to a conclusion. It is expected that the discussion will resume tomorrow at the board's weekly work session.