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Updated: 5/7/2009 - 4:20 AM

Population plateaus in Riverhead, Southold
North Fork towns see smallest population increases in years
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Riverhead Town's once-booming population growth has practically stopped, and Southold's population remained just about stagnant last year compared to 2007, according to statistics compiled by the Long Island Power Authority.

Riverhead's population grew by just 298 people in 2008, or less than one percent, to 33,864, while Southold's grew by only 79 people, the figures show.

Riverhead's past population increases have been among the largest on Long Island, percentage-wise, according to the energy company's annual population surveys.

In 2001, the town's population jumped by 7.1 percent in one year, twice that of any other Long Island town, and it increased by more than three percent every subsequent year until 2007, when it increased by only 1.14 percent.

Since 1997, Riverhead's population has jumped by 41 percent, or 9,877 people, according to the statistics. Riverhead's population increase, percentage-wise, was tops on Long Island every year from 2002 to 2006.

On the other hand, Southold's population has only jumped by about 12 percent from 1997 through 2008, from 20,443 to 22,931. But as in Riverhead, 2008 saw Southold's lowest townwide population increase in years. (Southold actually lost residents between 2000 and 2001, when the town's population dropped from 21,230 to 20,835.)

'I can tell you we are not getting the influx into the town we had previously gotten by virtue of new homes and retail.' Phil Cardinale, Riverhead supervisor
"I can tell you we are not getting the influx into the town we had previously gotten by virtue of new homes and retail," said Riverhead Supervisor Phil Cardinale. "None of this surprises me. It's consistent with the national and statewide picture."

Population figures for the rest of Long Island in 2008 were not available.

Riverhead Town's building market also plummeted in 2008.

Town building department statistics show the number of new home permits fell from 124 in 2007 to just 59 in 2008.

New condo permits also dropped in the same period, from 13 to 0, and new commercial permits fell from 17 to just three.

The numbers were a far cry from earlier in the decade. In 2002, the town issued 381 permits for new homes, 197 permits for new condo units and 28 permits for new commercial buildings.

Riverhead's master plan, adopted in 2003, predicts a maximum town population of 41,064, assuming land is built out to maximum levels permitted by zoning recommended in the master plan, most of which was adopted by the town.

Mr. Cardinale said that given the town's growth rate of a few years ago, it appeared the town population might reach 41,064 relatively soon.

Now, he said, the recent statistics indicate it may take a little longer to reach that number.

The building dropoff is not surprising, Mr. Cardinale said, given the effect the down housing market has already had on the town budget.

"We saw that in the numbers, which were reflected in the income side of our budget," he said. "Revenues from building fees were down by more than $2 million. That's why we had to cut spending."

Several large commercial applications are still pending in Riverhead, including the Shops at Riverhead, a shopping center across from Riverhead Raceway, and a number of projects at the Calverton Enterprise Park.

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