Year in Business 2016: An eventful year at EPCAL

12/24/2016 5:58 AM |

It was a case of another year and more big plans for the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

But this year, unlike in the past, the big plan Riverhead Town officials had been hoping for moved a step closer to reality. Or at least they hope so.

In September, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter announced that the Town Board had reached a tentative agreement to sell about 633 acres at EPCAL to Suffolk County Industrial LLC for $72,000 per acre, about $45 million total.

Suffolk County Industrial is headed by developers Tod Buckvar and Mark Fischl, who are also involved with current plans to redevelop the former Entenmann’s property in Bay Shore.

They are proposing an industrial office park at EPCAL, the supervisor said, adding that the closing of the sale will be “staged” over an 18-month period.

Town officials have long said that once they can sell land at EPCAL, their budgetary problems will be over.

But Mr. Walter said recently that the sale of land at EPCAL will only pay off previous town debt, mostly from land acquisitions and cost overruns in a landfill reclamation project during prior administrations.

“The crazy part of [the EPCAL] sale is that all it does is put us at even,” Mr. Walter said last month. “It’s not even going to be a windfall for the town. It just pays for that debacle at the landfill.”

Mr. Walter’s administration has been waiting more than six years for something big to happen at EPCAL.

Previous administrations did likewise, only to see those plans — ranging from an indoor ski mountain to a NASCAR racetrack to housing developments — eventually fall through.

Six years ago, the town hired consultants to develop new zoning for EPCAL, conduct an environmental impact study and develop an updated Urban Renewal plan, a marketing study and a reuse plan.

Most of those have now been completed.

As 2016 comes to a close, the EPCAL deal still has hurdles to clear.

For example, the Town Board will need to hold a “qualified and eligible sponsor” hearing, which is required whenever town land within an Urban Renewal area such as EPCAL is proposed for sale.

The point of the hearing, which has yet to be scheduled, is to determine if the prospective buyer has the finances and ability to purchase and develop the property.

According to Mr. Walter, if the deal with Suffolk County Industrial doesn’t work out, the town could choose to negotiate with a second company it had considered, Lincoln Equities of New Jersey.

The town also is still awaiting final approval of the 50-lot industrial subdivision at EPCAL, which is needed before individual lots can legally be sold.

The town Planning Board has subdivision jurisdiction at EPCAL and had scheduled a public hearing on the subdivision plan for the first week in December, but that had to be postponed because the legal notice of the hearing wasn’t done correctly.

It will now be held Thursday, Jan. 5, at 7 p.m.

Additionally, the town needs the state Department of Environmental Conservation to approve a Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act permit for the subdivision, part of which sits partially within the act’s jurisdiction area.

The act places severe restrictions on what can be built along the Peconic River.

The town also needs the DEC to approve an “incidental take permit” under the state’s endangered species act, which would allow development to occur within the habitat of an endangered or threatened species present within EPCAL’s boundaries. These permits require that a mitigation plan be submitted and approved by the DEC to offset the loss of habitat.

Riverhead Town isn’t alone in trying to make things happen at EPCAL.

Luminati Aerospace is leasing additional space at EPCAL to expand its business, which includes manufacturing “unmanned aerial vehicles” and constructing amphibious aircraft.

The company recently began leasing space in a former airplane hangar that was previously used to store and reconstruct TWA Flight 800 after it exploded over the ocean in 1996.

Riverhead’s recreation path at EPCAL also gained some steam in 2016, as the town received $500,000 in state grants along with a state permit to complete the remainder of the partially paved trail, which is popular with bicyclists and walkers.

Riverhead’s plans for a 90-acre “energy park” at EPCAL still haven’t taken off, as a company approved by LIPA to build a solar energy field on town-owned land there never reached agreement with LIPA on a power purchase agreement. Town officials say they are no longer interested in solar energy deals.

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