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Walter, Jens-Smith spar over EPCAL progress

03/28/2017 11:40 AM |

Democratic town supervisor candidate Laura Jens-Smith called a press conference Monday to lament a perceived lack of progress at the Enterprise Park at Calverton. Both the content and location of the media event were later criticized by her opponent.

Ms. Jens-Smith questioned the pace of development at EPCAL and the manner in which the town vets prospective buyers of land there. She also asked what happened to the proposed deal to sell more than 600 acres at EPCAL to a company called Suffolk County Industrial, LLC.

“We were told ‘Suffolk County Industrial is coming’ last year,” she said. “Since then we haven’t been told much.”

Ms. Jens-Smith was joined by fellow Democrats, including committee chair Marge Acevedo and Catherine Kent — who intends to run for a council seat on the Democratic line this year — at the town-owned Henry Pfeifer Community Center in Calverton.
In an interview afterward, Republican Supervisor Sean Walter called Ms. Jens-Smith’s timing “fortuitous,” saying he planned to call a press conference himself, perhaps as early as Thursday, “to announce information about the sale of property at EPCAL.”

He declined to say who the buyer might be.

The supervisor also criticized Ms. Jens-Smith’s choice of venue, saying a political event should not have been permitted in a town-owned building and called Ms. Smith’s application to use the Pfeifer center “deceptive.”

That application describes the type of use sought as an “informational meeting” for 10 people.

“That’s a little deceptive,” Mr. Walter said. “We don’t staff that building. We had to send a government employee over to open the center for what we believed to be an informational meeting.”

“I rented it,” Ms. Jens-Smith said. “It wasn’t gifted to me. You can use it for meetings and events and things like that, and there’s nothing in their rental information about the type of meetings you can have.”

The permit application, which Mr. Walter provided to reporters, indicates that Ms. Jens-Smith paid $55 to rent the building for two hours.

Mr. Walter said town code prohibits use of town facilities for political events, but he wasn’t certain where in the code that prohibition appears.

“We chose to have [the press conference] here at EPCAL because, for the past 20 years, there’s been a lot of grand plans at EPCAL that haven’t really happened,” Ms. Jens-Smith said.

Proposals for major projects at EPCAL only come up around election time, she added.

Ms. Jens-Smith said not much has been said about Suffolk County Industrial LLC since the town announced in September that the Medford company was in contract to buy more than 600 acres of town-owned land at EPCAL for $46 million.

“We are negotiating with Suffolk Industrial but Suffolk Industrial really put the brakes on negotiations about 12 weeks ago,” Mr. Walter said. “The Town Board is about to make an announcement, I’m hoping Thursday, regarding a purchaser.”

He said he couldn’t say more than that at this point.

Ms. Jens-Smith had said she’d heard rumors that Luminati Aerospace might be looking to buy additional land at ECPAL. Luminati bought the former SkyDive Long Island property at EPCAL two years ago and also leases space in another EPCAL location.

Mr. Walter at first declined to comment on that, but when asked by a reporter if Luminati were still interested in buying the unused western runway at EPCAL, as it had been in the past, Mr. Walter replied, “I’m going to say that on Thursday, we’ll make an announcement and I think the residents will be pleasantly surprised.”

Ms. Jens-Smith described Luminati as a “start-up company that we know very little about” and said the town should deal only with established firms.

“Luminati has expended tens or millions of dollars in the Town of Riverhead over the past 18 months,” Mr. Walter said. The company has an agreement with DuPont to make lightweight body armor fabrics, he added.

“They are a pretty serious player, as far as I can see,” the supervisor said.

Ms. Jens-Smith said she thinks the town should lease property at EPCAL rather than sell it. She feels Riverhead is trying to sell land there in order to balance the current budget.

Leasing would not be unprecedented, she said, adding that Grumman leased land there from the Navy before transferring it to the town in 1998.

“All options are on the table,” Mr. Walter responded, although he added that the town is pursuing a plan to have a “master developer” buy the remaining 600 or so acres the town owns and build infrastructure there at its own cost.

Ms. Jens-Smith said the manner in which the town selected a company to sell EPCAL land lacks transparency and that the supervisor is the only person dealing with prospective buyers of land there. She said the public is never told what’s happening.

“This is probably the most transparent process we’ve ever had for EPCAL,” Mr. Walter responded. “We used to take sealed bids or requests for proposals. We now have a real estate broker [Cushman & Wakefield] actively marketing the property, and they have been to Town Board meetings to disclose what’s going on and they’ve been in executive session for negotiations.”

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