Editorial: We need a new approach for developing EPCAL

06/14/2012 5:59 AM |

It’s no secret Riverhead Town’s approach over the last decade to developing the former Grumman site in Calverton has been a monumental failure, even an outright embarrassment. The efforts have been repeatedly thwarted, whether by roadblocks thrown up by the state DEC, the threat of lawsuits by environmentalists or unqualified foreign investors’ being busted for running illegal sex trades (as was the case with the failed Riverhead Resorts hotel project).

So we commend this supervisor and this Town Board for adopting a new strategy when it comes to developing the 2,900-acre property now known as EPCAL. For once, our elected leaders are thinking long-term about bringing jobs and stability to the region, not trying to jump at each big proposal and each big promise to inject huge sums of money into the town’s coffers now.

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While it may defy logic to think a new layer of bureaucracy could actually fast-track development proposals at EPCAL, it’s clear the current system of trying to approve these large and complex projects will not do; there are just too many agencies and unanswered questions involved. Matters that should be clear, such as which local government agency should take lead status when it comes to approving projects, have only resulted in fights, threats and silly press conferences.

Legislation is now being considered in Albany that, while not perfect, would establish a road map for real development at EPCAL. It would create an EPCAL revitalization district, with a seven-person commission made up of the five Riverhead Town Board members plus one appointee each by the governor and the county executive, that has final say over project approvals. Two additional non-voting members would likely come from the environmental community.

The Riverhead Town Board voted unanimously last week to support this legislation in Albany. The News-Review supports it as well.
This approach does not come without risk. Instead of simply collecting money from developers who promise to subdivide and add infrastructure to the land themselves, the town may actually have to — gasp! — spend some money on the site.

But as Councilman John Dunleavy said last week, “Sometimes you have to spend money to make money.” The town will be pursuing state and federal grants to obtain at least a portion of the necessary funds. The rest would come from developers, or so is the hope.

Subdividing and improving the land at EPCAL while also ceding some power and authority to the state and county may just prove to be the only approach that will work for the Enterprise Park at Calverton, Long Island’s last huge swath of undeveloped land. This is indeed a project of regional significance.

A bustling enterprise park of this scope could accomplish a great deal of what our elected leaders have campaigned on: attracting and retaining top-notch companies, creating well-paying jobs and keeping our best and brightest here on Long Island and in New York State. Governor Andrew Cuomo and our state senators and assemblymen should recognize this as well and do everything in their power to get this legislation passed during this session, and then support it through the proper funding and attention.