Raising Riverside: Plans for Revitalization, Including a Bridge to Riverhead

Many eastbound travelers are welcomed into the lush North and South Forks by a congested traffic circle and a desolate, boarded up “Main Street” in Riverside. Just across the Peconic River lies a bustling Riverhead, and further along Route 24 you’ll find Sunrise Highway carving a path through Hampton Bays, Southampton, and the rest. As suited Porsche drivers and bikini-clad, surf-ready regulars crawl (or idle) through the traffic circle and zip right on toward the shores, Riverside remains used but unnoticed, a bypassed pocket of potential at the junction of both forks. For what he nicknames “the gateway to the Hamptons,” Suffolk CountyLegislator Jay Schneiderman envisions a new life—a “Riverside Revival” that will not only beautify the area, but also tap into its cultural and economic potential.

Schneiderman has been investigating ways to breathe new life into Riverside for years. Countless discussions with community leaders and officials have concluded this: Riverside must be developed. Landlords along the potential Main Street are sitting on empty, for-sale buildings that could be used to satisfy community needs—a grocery store, for one. Residents want development, too; development means more property owners, more tax relief, less crime and higher property value. Schneiderman hopes that this hamlet of Riverhead will become a home for the swelling labor force that tends to the growing number of Hamptonites and summer home owners. However, since Riverside enjoys a location near the Peconic River, the Department of Health prohibits any development in the hamlet without an updated sewage infrastructure. Riverside will need to work its way up to its potential, underbelly first.

A county study on the detailed workings of the new sewage systems should be done by September, which leaves Schneiderman’s agenda temporarily clear to focus on the other legs of his revitalize-Riverside action plan. Next step: ground level.

As with the other East End towns, walkability is essential. What would the Hamptons be without manicured hedges, crisp storefronts and open-air cafés, after all? There’s a kind of whimsical elegance in each town, an effortlessness that pervades the entire East End, and Schneiderman wants to channel it into Riverside. The inefficient traffic circle sparked the project, but now Schneiderman’s vision includes so much more: a grocery store where the dilapidated hotel is, a restaurant across the way, three-story shops lining the street, affordable housing above them. A trail through the woods leading to the Peconic, a footbridge connecting Riverside to downtown Riverhead.

Optimistic about funding and community support, Schneiderman reasons that “It’s all readily achievable…really, what an opportunity!” He’s excited, as he should be; it’s a five-year project, and the pieces of the plan are already coming together. While we chatted about his plans for the hamlet, Schneiderman showed computer models and 3D renderings of what he envisions for the new town. In one version, the traffic circle has lost a leg: Riverleigh Avenue cuts to Lake, Riverleigh’s intersection in the circle replaced by development that continues along Flanders Road. In the other version, all five legs remain, but the shape of the roundabout is oval—“duck egg–shaped,” Schneiderman quipped. While this will give more space between each leg, traffic engineers prefer the four-legged (and more expensive and extensive) solution.

Like the rest of the Riverside Revival, he stressed that “a critical component is community support…We can start with community consensus,” and once we have that, public officials will act accordingly and begin changing zoning laws allowing for development.

Schneiderman’s plans to re-create the hamlet as a destination in itself rather than simply a road marker are well under way. The legislator has applied for grants to create a nature trail through the woods, and he’s already pitched his Peconic footbridge idea to fellow officials. His computer models estimate, based on population trends and some fancy equations, when a particular traffic setup will begin to fail, his roundabout structure is designed to start and continue working for decades to
come.

A new town, a revived community, a picturesque locale, a supportive public—all the raw materials for success are here, and Schneiderman is putting them to use to create a more efficient, unified East End. First step: footbridge over the Peconic. Next step, who knows…water taxis connecting the East End shores?

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