When Ron Fisher last walked the 14 acres of land set aside by Suffolk County along the Peconic River in Riverside, it had seen better days.
Once part of a cranberry bog, the property had tires and other garbage strewn across its woods — a notorious dumping ground from the time an old mill closed there — and there was evidence that people had squatted there as well.
“It’s definitely been a dumping site for a while and there were homeless people camping there,” said Fisher, president of the Flanders, Riverside, and Northampton Community Association. “There were tents, pairs of sneakers drying, and can openers. One guy had fashioned thin branches into a closet where he had hung his clothes.”
But that is all set to change, and soon, in yet another step forward in the revitalization of the Riverside area.
The Southampton architectural design firm Araiys Design was expected to meet with residents and environmentalists to toss around ideas for the design of a proposed Riverside Maritime Trail Park at the site on Monday, September 10. The firm, which has been hired by Southampton Town, will lead a charrette, a design tool used to gather input from small focus groups, during FRNCA’s regular meeting at the David Crohan Community Center in Flanders. During the meeting, participants will be asked what they would like to see at the park.
“This is a chance for the community to weigh in and give their ideas and visions to the consultants to help them design what’s appropriate for this area,” said Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman.
Past suggestions have included park benches, reading areas, and pet-friendly walking trails, according to Fisher. “I can’t even dream big enough,” he added.
FRNCA was instrumental in arranging an intermunicipal agreement between Suffolk County and Southampton Town, so that the town now has control of the site, allowing the municipality to undertake construction there. The organization also applied for a $50,000 New York State Department of Conservation grant that is paying for the design work, and has also applied for another $100,000 grant that will fund the construction phase of the project.
Fisher said that the organization has a bevy of retired planners who helped work on the grant applications. That, coupled with support from local government, such as the Southampton Town Board and Trustees, as well as environmental groups like the Group for the East End, The Pine Barrens Society, Peconic Baykeeper Organization, and Defend H20, is what helped them secure the grants.
Preliminary plans for the Riverside Maritime Trail Park will include the design of a passive park that will include a wetland restoration project along the south side, the Southampton side, of the Peconic River across from Riverhead. There’s one thing that people need to keep in mind, though. The maritime trail will be quite different than the bulkheaded shoreline across the river in Riverhead, Fisher explained. The trail’s shoreline will feature natural wetlands and will be set back by about 20 feet from the water with a catwalk, not a dock.
“We want wetlands with native plants and species,” Fisher added.
The catwalk is in keeping with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan for wetland restoration and coastal resiliency in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. Under the plan, natural wetlands are encouraged along shorelines because they absorb water, as opposed to shore-hardening devices like bulkheads and docks.
“A traditional bulkhead does not hold back water, but plants and roots do,” Fisher said.
To start, the catwalk will be constructed along the shoreline adjacent to the park, but there are covenants placed on the surrounding properties through zoning that require property owners to construct a catwalk if they want to develop their land, according to Fisher.
One preliminary idea that has already been suggested for the trail is that the catwalk be constructed so that it is in a circular loop. However, that idea has to wind its way through the process first, just like all the others, Fisher said.
Araiys will return to the community to unveil a rough draft of the ideas from the charrette process at a meeting at the Crohan Center on October 16. They will present their plans, which will include 90 percent of the completed design phase, to the town board at a work session scheduled for November 15, also at the Crohan Center. After that, there will be another chance to tweak some of the ideas before the final plan is approved and the project moves into the bidding process and construction phase.