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Civic leaders urge town to vote against EPCAL deal

05/09/2018 12:00 PM |

As the Riverhead Town Board gets closer to making a decision on Calverton Aviation and Technology’s proposal to buy 1,640 acres at the Enterprise Park at Calverton for $40 million, a group of civic and environmental organizations is urging them not to make that deal.

The Coalition Against EPCAL Housing, a group led by former Calverton Civic Association president Rex Farr, was joined by representatives of the Group for the East End, the North Fork Environmental Council, the Northville Beach Civic Association, the Greater Jamesport Civic Association, the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, and the Long Island Pine Barrens Society outside Town Hall Tuesday to make their case for why the Town Board should not move forward with the sale to CAT.

Town Board members have held two qualified and eligible sponsor hearings on CAT —  a joint venture between Triple Five Group and Luminati Aerospace — but it has to yet to vote or to set a date to vote.

Town Board members interviewed this week also have yet to say — at least publicly — which way they plan to vote.

“We will remind the Town Board that we — the citizens of Riverhead, the civic associations and the environmental groups — are going to be holding the Town Board responsible for their actions,” Mr. Farr said at the press conference. “And if need be, were are prepared to take further action should the deal be approved.”

Asked later if that meant the civic groups might take legal action to overturn such a vote, Mr. Farr wouldn’t say yes, but indicated that was an option.

The EPCAL deal originally was with a company called Suffolk County Industrial Development LLC, which offered $46 million in September 2016 for 633 acres at EPCAL.

That deal later fell apart, although then-supervisor Sean Walter never made this public until early 2017 when Luminati Aerospace entered the picture with a deal to buy 1,640 acres for $40 million.

Luminati, headed by Daniel Preston, had a confidential partner in the deal, which Mr. Walter later said was Facebook, but that deal also later fell apart, without anyone notifying the public.

Luminati then partnered with billionaire John Catsimitidis’ United Refining Company for the same price and acreage, but that deal fell apart in late 2017, and Luminati instead partnered with Triple Five, a privately-held company that is best known for building large shopping malls.

The then-lame duck Town Board, with Mr. Walter and Councilman John Dunleavy set to leave office, voted in late December to sign a contract with CAT to sell the 1,640 acres to them subject to a Q&E hearing to determine if they have the money and ability to carry out their development plan for the site.

Councilman Jim Wooten also voted for the contract, but Councilwoman Jodi Giglio and Tim Hubbard voted against it.

Mr. Farr said this vote has hamstrung the current board.

“The contract is so poorly written and negotiated that if fails to provide guarantees that there will be aviation manufacturing or any manufacturing for that matter,” Mr. Farr said.

While CAT has said it doesn’t want to build housing at EPCAL, the contract doesn’t prevent them for selling the land to someone else who does, Mr. Farr said.

“[CAT] is paying for this property what someone pays for a house in Sagaponack,” said Bob DeLuca of the Group for the East End. “The town really has to wake up and see what it’s giving away.”

In separate interviews, Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, Ms. Giglio and Mr. Hubbard said they still have not decided on their vote. Councilwoman Catherine Kent said she has “serious concerns” about the proposal.

“I still haven’t seen a strong development plan, and I’m not clear what their plans are,” she said. She said the company’s CAT is looking to bring to EPCAL are mostly start-ups.

“This decision is so important to the town, I don’t think we should be rushing it or railroading it through,” she said.

Councilmen Jim Wooten couldn’t be reached for comment.

On May 1, Ms. Kent and Ms. Jens-Smith, both Democrats, had voted against ending the public comment period on May 4, while Mr. Wooten, Mr. Hubbard and Ms. Giglio, all Republicans, voted to do so.

Ms. Jens-Smith said the board plans to discuss the next steps it will take in executive session after Thursday’s work session. The next regular Town Board meeting is May 16 at 7 p.m.

The supervisor said CAT still hasn’t submitted a sufficient development plan, a cost estimate for the development plan or certified financial statements showing that they have the money to carry out the plan.

Ms. Jens-Smith said the cost of developing at least one million square feet, which CAT is required to do, could be as much as $330 million.

In an interview Tuesday, Stuart Bienenstock, Triple Five’s director of business development, said that they have sent a two-page letter to the town from Grant Thornton, one of the largest accounting firms in the world, that indicates that as of March 9, Triple Five has a minimum of $40 million available for use in connection with the purchase of the town land.

He said they can’t do a proper development plan for the site until they can get more information from the town.

“There are approvals that have to happen before we can get on the property and tell you exactly where on the property we’re going to be developing,” he said, adding that the town’s proposed subdivision of the property hasn’t yet been approved.

“They are telling us there’s 600 developable acres, but they’re not telling us where,” Mr. Bienenstock said.

“It’s very clear that we’re qualified to finance and purchase this project,” he said.

One issue that could effect the Town Board’s vote is whether Ms. Giglio can vote.

The Coalition Against EPCAL Housing last month filed an ethics complaint against her for visiting Triple Five on her own to discuss the EPCAL project.

Mr. Giglio says she “was just doing research so I can make an informed vote.”

The Coalition feels she should be required to recuse herself on the vote.

The Ethics Committee, whose meetings are confidential, met last Tuesday but has yet to make a recommendation.

Ms. Giglio said the town’s outside legal council on the EPCAL sale said she has not broken the law or the town ethics code.

She said she still hasn’t made a decision on CAT, but pointed out that the EPCAL land was given to the town for economic development.

Mr. Hubbard said he’s “been going back and forth like a pendulum” on the CAT decision. He said he wants to wait until the ethics board ruling on Ms. Giglio is received before voting.

At Tuesday’s press conference, John McAuliff of the Coalition Against EPCAL Housing said news reports from other areas indicated that Triple Five makes large campaign contributions in areas they seek to develop.

Mr. Bienenstock said they have made no campaign contributions in Riverhead and said of the reports, “If you use the internet as a tool for your due diligence, you’re going to get misinformation.”

Both Mr. Hubbard and Ms. Giglio said they have received no campaign contributions from CAT and that they wouldn’t accept them if they were offered.

Photo caption: Former Calverton Civic Association president Rex Farr speaks outside Town Hall Tuesday. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

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