Riverhead supe predicts downtown parking problem

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Apollo Real Estate Advisors has owned the Woolworth site since 2006 and may be in the process of getting it sold.

Downtown Riverhead seems to have plenty of empty parking spaces now, but town Supervisor Sean Walter believes that could change in a hurry.

Several proposals may be on the horizon for Main Street, he says.

That, combined with the near completion of the Summerwind apartment complex on Peconic Avenue, may soon force town officials to take action to somehow create more parking, or fiddle with zoning to prevent too big a crush of downtown apartments.

For one, the supervisor believes a deal may be in the works to sell the former Woolworth building, which has sat mostly vacant for several years.

The building is still owned by Manhattan-based Apollo Real Estate Advisors, which has since changed its name to AREA Property Partners. The investment group bought it in 2006, when it had plans to build a multiplex and other stores there, but the plan never came to fruition.

Most recently, developer Ron Parr sought to buy the land from Apollo to build a multiplex for Regal Cinemas, but that fell apart too earlier this year.

“I don’t know who’s buying it or what they want to do, I just know there’s somebody out there that’s going to be setting up a meeting with me,” Mr. Walter said in an interview Friday.

A call to Kevin Davis of Apollo seeking comment was not immediately returned.

There is one tenant, the Knu Style-N-Temple barber shop, currently operating out of a small storefront in the building.

Mr. Walter said he’s also spoken with a developer who is seeking to put a gym in the former Swezey’s Department Store building. That building has sat vacant since Swezey’s went out of business about a decade ago.

Mr. Walter said he hasn’t heard from that developer, whom he did not name, in about two weeks, and planned to check again to ensure there is still interest.

A successful gym also would use a lot of parking spaces, Mr. Walter said.

The building in question is the original Swezey’s building immediately east of the former West Marine building, which also is vacant. That building is owned by Eli Mizrahi of Florida.

A western part of the former Swezey’s store — the business occupied a string of storefronts — is owned by Riverhead Enterprises, headed by Sheldon Gordon.

Riverhead Enterprises owns several downtown buildings that are empty. Many years ago, the group proposed to build apartments in three of them, and Mr. Walter said he believes Riverhead Enterprises might be working on something now, too.

But Mr. Gordon said in an interview that while building apartments has been talked about, “There’s nothing definitive at this point.”

The zoning adopted for downtown following the 2003 Master Plan update calls for up to 500 apartments to be permitted above stores in downtown Riverhead.

Mr. Walter thinks that’s too many, and says the Town Board will have to, at some point, reduce that number.

“It’s not realistic to think we can have 500 apartments downtown,” Mr. Walter said.

When the 52-unit Summerwind is built, and if projects happen at Swezeys and possibly the Woolworth building, or one of Riverhead Enterprises’ buildings, “I think that’s going to be it. I don’t think Patchogue even has 500 apartments.”

He said he thinks a more realistic number of apartments for downtown Riverhead would be around 200.

The Summerwind project, which will also contain a restaurant and retail stores on the first floor, would probably use up about 70 to 90 parking spaces in the town’s Riverfront parking lot, Mr. Walter said.

The long-shuttered Suffolk Theatre is also expected to open up at the end of this year.

As previously reported, the supervisor feels downtown events like the Riverhead Blues Festival may have to find another location because of a foreseen parking problem.

He said the Riverhead Country Fair would be an exception, because it’s held throughout downtown and not just in the Riverfront parking lot.

“The Country Fair will definitely go on,” Mr. Walter said in an interview.

He would like to see the former Riverhead Fire Department headquarters on Second Street used for parking. The town now owns that building although there has been debate over what to do with it.

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