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Hardy2
November 08, 2006

Board Reviews Riverside Blight Study


The winds of change are sweeping the streets of Riverside, and Southampton Town Board members are eager to shepherd changes into an area long plagued by blight, shuttered businesses and crime.

Last July, a public meeting was held in Riverside to review the overall concept plan aimed at revitalizing Riverside. And on Friday, members of the Southampton Town Board met with Southampton Town housing director John White, White Plains-based planning development consultant David Schiff of Saccardi $ Schiff, Inc, and Jeff Murphee, Southampton Town planning administrator, to go over a blight study and concept plan that seeks to improve Riverside's deteriorated housing conditions, underutilized land and community isolation. The goal, said White, is to enhance the value of the area while, at the same time, stem the deterioration evident in the community.

The blight study was accompanied by an action plan for the Riverside area, which identified eight tasks that could be utilized to implement the plan's recommendations in each of nine sub-areas, including rezonings, delineation and designation of blight areas, creation of an urban renewal plan to be adopted by Southampton Town, acquisition and clearance of lands and buildings, assembly of individual properties into parcels for redevelopment sites, improving and rehabilitating private properties, improvements to public facilities and undertaking additional studies.

Key to any revitalization is rezoning. Much of Riverside is currently zoned R-15 — residential use with a minimum lot size of 15,000 square feet. Other existing zoning includes village business (VB) and highway business (HB).

The goal in certain areas would be to rezone from VB to R-15, to prevent strictly commercial uses in residential neighborhoods.

Also applied would be the HO/HC, or hamlet office/hamlet commercial zoning, which was included in Southampton Town's Comprehensive Plan, updated in 1999. Such a rezoning would also remove "outdated" VB zoning to prevent strictly commercial future uses. In addition, HO/HC would remove inappropriate highway business uses and promote commercial and residential mixed uses.

The plan also calls for construction of sidewalks on Riverleigh Avenue, which would facilitate increased pedestrian use. The area, currently unsafe for strolling, would see streetscape improvements under the new plan, as well as improved vehicular circulation.

Other highlights of the plan include the creation of a possible "gateway" at the intersection of an extended Pine Street and Old Quogue Road, as well as the design and construction of a roundabout at the same intersection, and redevelopment of the parcels surrounding the new gateway.

A gateway, said Schiff, would serve as a focal point, featuring mixed-use development and a community center, and help to transform Riverside into a destination. "We want to create more of a focus so people don't just zoom past. We want to create a cohesive, walkable community."

"The intent is not to increase density," Schiff offered, but instead, to improve and revitalize much of the area's existing housing stock.

The next step in the ongoing process, said Schiff, is to move into an action plan and ultimately, implementation. An urban renewal plan is part of the process, as is a state environmental quality review, which must be undertaken before any rezonings can take place at the town board level and be adopted into the urban renewal plan.

One area that the town board took a closer look at was the once-again closed diner on Riverleigh Avenue; the business, which struggled under a number of owners for years and the site, said Councilwoman Linda Kabot, was once the subject of heated discussion when the idea for a homeless shelter was proposed. But, while the idea of a homeless shelter met with opposition, Kabot urged consideration of other options, including a senior center or nursing home, much needed, she said, in an area where the senior population is swelling.

Schiff said as of yet, no consensus had been reached in regard to the abandoned diner and the motel on the property, which is still operating.

In the future, he said, the area might be appropriate for neighborhood retail. "It needs further study."

Kabot said the viability of keeping the existing motel and pizza restaurant at the site should be examined. "It causes civic damage to have non-economically viable uses in that area."

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